In 982 the Althing, the General assembly of Iceland, considered the case of an ill-tempered immigrant, Erik the Red, who had been expelled from Norway for murder. He ended up killing again and was exiled by the Althing for three years.

Erik sailed west to explore a land he had heard about from sailors who had been blown off course. This 'green land' he decided would become his place to live. In 985 he returned to Iceland and enlisted a group of followers to help him establish a base at Brattahlid in Greenland. Soon after a captain named Bjarni Herjolfsson, was blown off course while en route to Greenland. After drifting for many days, Bjarni spotted forested land. But instead of investigating he turned back to Greenland.

Intrigued by this tale, Erik's oldest son Leif, decided to find the new land. First he came to a land of rocks and glaciers. Then he sailed south to a place he called Vinland where he camped for the winter, then sailed home. Members of his family returned in later years, but Leif never did and the camp was soon abandoned.

But in Greenland the Vikings did hold out for several centuries. A site, found in 1990, near Nuuk was occupied for almost 300 years. But in the 14th century the Vikings began to leave Greenland and by 1450 they were all gone.

One reason was climate change. During the ninth century, when the Viking expansion across the Atlantic began, the climate was unusually warm and the pack ice that often clogged the North Atlantic was at a minimum. Then, starting about 1350, global temperatures dropped, and what is know as the Little Ice Age began. In the 1960's archaelogists found the location of an ancient Norse settlement near the village of l'Anse aux Meadows, believed to be Leif's first base in America.