The Arctic Mirage and the Early North Atlantic

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Science  25 Jun 1976:
Vol. 192, Issue 4246, pp. 1300-1305
DOI: 10.1126/science.192.4246.1300


The arctic mirage is a phenomenon that is common in higher latitudes. It occurs under conditions of pronounced temperature inversion, which impart to the air a refractive capability that may equal or exceed the curvature of the earth. Manifestations of the arctic mirage, though largely forgotten in modern times, are described in the earliest accounts of North Atlantic discovery.

This interdisciplinary investigation, combining historical induction with scientific observation and analysis, has suggested a new interpretation of historical events. We believe that information gleaned from these mirages was vital to Norse navigation and exploration in the North Atlantic. We further contend that the mirage may furnish a logical basis for the pervasive ancient and medieval concept of the flat or saucer-shaped world.