NSFGEO-NERC: Collaborative Research: Environmental Change and Impacts on Ancient Human Colonization of Peary Land, Northernmost Greenland

Lead PI: Dr. William J. D'Andrea

Unit Affiliation: Biology and Paleo Environment, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

October 2021 - September 2023
Arctic ; Greenland
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: This is a project that is jointly funded by the National Science Foundation’s Directorate of Geosciences (NSF/GEO) and the National Environment Research Council (UKRI/NERC) of the United Kingdom (UK) via the NSF/GEO-NERC Lead Agency Agreement. This Agreement allows a single joint US/UK proposal to be submitted and peer-reviewed by the Agency whose investigator has the largest proportion of the budget. Upon successful joint determination of an award, each Agency funds the proportion of the budget and the investigators associated with its own investigators and component of the work.

Arctic communities have a long history of endurance in extreme climates. How people responded to environmental change in the past is of direct relevance today and will offer those who live in the North a window into a time when ancient people found ways to endure in the most difficult circumstances. The research will document how periods of human settlement and abandonment in northern Greenland were related to climate fluctuations over the past 4500 years. In this remote region, climate change played a critical role in the survival of people by affecting vegetation and the abundance of grazing animals, as well as the presence of marine mammals on the coast. When climate was favorable, resources were abundant and the vulnerability of humans to environmental change was low. During times of less favorable climate, resources became more limited and sensitivity to fluctuations in climate increased. When conditions became sufficiently inhospitable to humans, exceeding the ability of people to adapt, they left the area for more favorable locations. The project will assess the conditions under which early people were able to adapt and survive, as well as conditions that may have led them to abandon the region.

The project will examine interactions among physical, biological, and human systems in an extreme, High Arctic environment. The project will produce high resolution, quantitative records of climate and vegetation change from lake sediments, obtained from locations adjacent to prehistoric settlements. Measurements of the inorganic content, lipid biomarkers, compound specific stable isotopes, pollen and spores, chironomids, diatoms, and sedimentary ancient DNA will shed light on paleoclimate patterns in the region. An archaeological survey using fixed-wing drones will be conducted to inventory archaeological sites in the region, and the project will model past coastal sea-ice extent under different climatic conditions. Several students and early career researchers will be trained throughout the project, and outreach to communities in Greenland as well as students in the United States will communicate research outcomes to a wide audience.