The Norse settled Iceland from the mid-late 9th century AD, and they established farms across all inhabitable parts of Iceland. Many of these farms endured, often through to the present day. Others were not so successful and farm sites were abandoned. It is not clear why some farms continued to be occupied, whilst others nearby did not. As well as socio-economic factors, we know that climate fluctuations must have been crucial, due to the environmentally marginal nature of farming in Iceland. Late springs, the early onset of winter and variations in the time that snow lies on the land can have dramatic impacts on livestock mortality, grazing quality, and fodder production (essential for feeding animals over the winter). Climate change can also drive soil erosion, adding to pressures on farming. Changing patterns of settlement in Iceland is also reflected in the differing fates of Norse colonies in the Faroes and Greenland. High resolution land surface models and meteorological downscaling provide us with an opportunity to better understand the dynamics between landscape, climate and people, and modelling on human/farm scales is key. This will enable neighbouring farms to be compared and the modelling will link directly with archaeological excavations by Icelandic colleagues and others in the North Atlantic Biocultural Organisation. Global climate models driven with reconstructions of solar variations, volcanic aerosols and land use change can simulate climate variations over past centuries, but only on spatial scales far coarser than the scales on which communities will have experienced climate change impacts. This project will use a high-resolution land surface model and meteorological downscaling to reconstruct impacts on human scales for selected regions in Iceland (Skaftártunga, Hörgárdalur, Mývatnsveit and Svalbard) during the late medieval period (13-15th centuries CE).
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