Tiny bird’s poo has tremendous impact on Greenland’s nature

Isn’t it amazing the way one animal can modify an entire ecosystem? Here’s another example of that: Tiny bird’s poo has tremendous impact on Greenland’s nature.

The little auk is by any measure a tiny bird. At just 160 grams, which is about one third the weight of a pigeon, yet, it has as a surprisingly big influence on the landscape near Thule in Northwest Greenland.

It turns out that many larger animals like musk ox, geese, reindeer, foxes, hares, and many more have much to thank the little bird for: auk poop provides nutrients for grass and flowers. However, it also makes the nearby lakes and waterways so acidic that almost nothing can survive there besides algae.

“The auk literally transforms the landscape,” says co-author Thomas Alexander Davidson from the Department of Bioscience and The Arctic Research Centre at Aarhus University, Denmark. [continue]

Tupilaqs: Greenlandic spirits that gained power by sucking genitals

Well! I bet this is the strangest thing you’ll read about today:

It is not every day that you come across a magic animal carved from the bones of children and animals, which is brought to life through magical songs and given power by sucking on the manufacturer’s sexual organs. On top of that, it has but one mission in life: to kill its creator’s enemies.

But for Hans Lange, a curator at Greenland National Museum, such an encounter is a fairly common experience. He is the resident expert of the fabled tupilaq, which is exhibited in more than 100 different versions at the National Museum in Nuuk, Greenland.

He points to one of the showcases of some small tupilaq figurines made by trappers–reportedly after encountering them at sea. Lange prefers to think of the creatues as a kind of demon spirit used by Greenlanders in the old days. [continue]

That’s from this page at Science Nordic.


Why did Greenland’s Vikings vanish?

You need something good to read, and Smithsonian Magazine has come to the rescue, with this: Why Did Greenland’s Vikings Vanish? It begins:

On the grassy slope of a fjord near the southernmost tip of Greenland stand the ruins of a church built by Viking settlers more than a century before Columbus sailed to the Americas. The thick granite-block walls remain intact, as do the 20-foot-high gables. The wooden roof, rafters and doors collapsed and rotted away long ago. Now sheep come and go at will, munching wild thyme where devout Norse Christian converts once knelt in prayer.

The Vikings called this fjord Hvalsey, which means “Whale Island” in Old Norse. It was here that Sigrid Bjornsdottir wed Thorstein Olafsson on Sunday, September 16, 1408. The couple had been sailing from Norway to Iceland when they were blown off course; they ended up settling in Greenland, which by then had been a Viking colony for some 400 years. Their marriage was mentioned in three letters written between 1409 and 1424, and was then recorded for posterity by medieval Icelandic scribes. Another record from the period noted that one person had been burned at the stake at Hvalsey for witchcraft.

But the documents are most remarkable—and baffling—for what they don’t contain: any hint of hardship or imminent catastrophe for the Viking settlers in Greenland, who’d been living at the very edge of the known world ever since a renegade Icelander named Erik the Red arrived in a fleet of 14 longships in 985. For those letters were the last anyone ever heard from the Norse Greenlanders. [continue]

Cold tolerance among Inuit may come from extinct human relatives

Did you see this? From the NYT: Cold tolerance among Inuit may come from extinct human relatives.

Inuit who live in Greenland experience average temperatures below freezing for at least half of the year. For those who live in the north, subzero temperatures are normal during the coldest months.

Given these frigid conditions, anthropologists have wondered for decades whether the Inuit in Greenland and other parts of the Arctic have unique biological adaptations that help them tolerate the extreme cold.

A new study, published on Wednesday in Molecular Biology and Evolution, identifies gene variants in Inuit who live in Greenland, which may help them adapt to the cold by promoting heat-generating body fat. These variants possibly originated in the Denisovans, a group of archaic humans who, along with Neanderthals, diverged from modern humans about half a million years ago. [continue]