Greenland’s Ice Sheet is the second largest mass of ice on Earth, second only to the Antarctic Ice Sheet. ©From a NASA Goddard video

Norwegian-born Erik the Red was either a great marketer or just a truthful traveler, depending on which stories you choose to believe.

Growing up, you probably learned in school that Erik the Red named the world’s largest noncontinental island “Greenland” (Grunland) to entice his neighbors and friends to settle the new country with him. However, that may only be partly true. The southern portion of Greenland that is not covered by glaciers is green in the summer months and was probably even greener during Erik’s time, the Medieval Warm Period.

In any event, he must have been quite convincing, because in the summer of 985, 25 boats filled with about 500 emigrants and their domestic animals sailed from the west coast of Iceland for the inviting fjords and green valleys Erik the Red had talked about. Unfortunately, only 14 of the ships made it.

Each layer of ice is a record of what the Earth’s climate was like in different time periods. ©NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Travel to Greenland today, of course, is a lot safer. The country is still a hauntingly beautiful place, although not as warm as in Erik’s time. Today, Greenland’s Ice Sheet is the second largest mass of ice on Earth. But over the past two decades, warming temperatures have caused Greenland’s great ice cap—which contains enough water to raise ocean levels by about 20 feet—to melt.

That’s why studying Greenland’s ice from past climate periods will help us better understand how it might respond to our current warming trend. Just recently, online in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface on January 16, 2015, NASA scientists published the first-ever, comprehensive map of the thousands of frozen layers of ice deep inside the Greenland Ice Sheet. A video of that map is shown below.

Eemian ice, left over from before the last Ice Age, shows how the ice sheet responded to a warm period similar to today’s. ©NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Watching the video is like looking back to the time of Erik the Red—and beyond it. NASA states that each layer of ice is not only a record of snowfall and melting events, but what the Earth’s climate was like at the dawn of civilization, or during the last Ice Age, or during an ancient period of warmth similar to the one we are experiencing today.

The map was created by using state-of-the-art radar to survey previously unexplored areas of the Greenland Ice Sheet and combining that information with data from ice cores. It’s hoped that this information will be helpful in projecting Greenland’s future contribution to sea-level rise.

Personally, I think Erik the Red’s marketing message would have been lost on me. There are already enough warm, green and inviting places on Earth.

I prefer the few left with ice.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,