Contributions Scandinavian Countries Made in Early Oceanography

Early oceanographers from the Scandinavian countries would have included the Vikings as well as the Norsemen from the regions now known as the countries of Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Denmark, as well as much of Finland. Explorers from this region navigated the North Atlantic centuries before anyone else and did in fact reach distances as far as North America where they did establish colonies. To navigate the sub-polar region of the North Atlantic would have required knowledge of the ocean currents as well as its depths. These explorers chronicled information such as this in their journeys, including seafloor sediment samples, making them some of the earliest oceanographers in recorded history.

When the Vikings set out from the Scandinavian Peninsula between the years of 793 and 1066 during the great “Viking Age,” they covered vast distances in vessels referred to as “Dragon Ships.” They colonized many of the islands they came across, including Iceland, and explored as far west as North America. During their travels they made many observations about the ocean and its behavior. It was Viking sailors who invented the term for measuring the ocean depth in fathoms. These early explorers not only measured  the depth of the ocean, but also took rudimentary samples of the ocean floor.

It was also these Viking explorers who noted the presence of a current around Iceland, knowledge that has also been cited in Norse culture. In order to navigate such incredible distances with such success, they must have known a great deal more about the ocean than what history presents, however. Since much of their knowledge was sustained and circulated in the oral form, it is certain that much was lost over the generations and their understanding of ocean ecosystems may have been much vaster than modern society is aware. The Vikings explored as far from their homeland as North America by the year 1002, quite early in recorded history. To have accomplished this feat they must have possessed considerable knowledge of the vast ocean expanse that comprises the North Atlantic.

Early Scandinavian oceanographers may have also conducted research as far north as the Arctic, navigating unforgivable seas and inhospitable climates. The greatest contribution by early Scandinavian cultures was their influence on seagoing travel and exploration. The conquests made by these peoples forced cultures in other parts of Europe to increase their presence on the seas. An increased maritime presence resulted in an increased knowledge of technology, and within a few hundred years of these early Scandinavian explorations European countries were traveling to the Americas in large numbers.