Published: June 2010

Changing Greenland

Greenland

Viking Weather

As Greenland returns to the warm climate that allowed Vikings to colonize it in the Middle Ages, its isolated and dependent people dream of greener fields and pastures—and also of oil from ice-free waters.

By Tim Folger
Photograph by Peter Essick

A little north and west of Greenland's stormy southern tip, on a steep hillside above an iceberg-clotted fjord first explored by Erik the Red more than a thousand years ago, sprout some horticultural anomalies: a trim lawn of Kentucky bluegrass, some rhubarb, and a few spruce, poplar, fir, and willow trees. They're in the town of Qaqortoq, 60° 43' north latitude, in Kenneth Høegh's backyard, about 400 miles south of the Arctic Circle.

"We had frost last night," Høegh says as we walk around his yard on a warm July morning, examining his plants while mosquitoes examine us. Qaqortoq's harbor glitters sapphire blue below us in the bright sun. A small iceberg—about the size of a city bus—has drifted within a few feet of the town's dock. Brightly painted clapboard homes, built with wood imported from Europe, freckle the nearly bare granite hills that rise like an amphitheater over the harbor.

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