Published July 9, 2004


Not long ago men discovered how the ocean currents flow in counter directions, on the surface and beneath. All the world´s oceans are connected by this mechanism of nature. The weather and our well-being are derived from this ‘great serpent’. The warm water flows to the North Atlantic, ensuring a mild climate which cools and sinks north of Iceland. In currents in the sea depths the water travels and will not surface again until it reaches the Indian Ocean or the Pacific. From there it travels back in a seemingly endless circle. Or is it indeed endless?

The end of our civilisation
“Conveyor belt” is not a fancy name, at least not as fancy as earlier cultures gave this luring serpent that encircles the earth. It had elegant names as Nü-Kua, Tiamat and Aido-Hwedo but here in Iceland those phenomena were called Jörmundgandur or the Midgard-serpent. The old myths tell his tale. He was a tiny little creature in the beginning, born of a giant called Angur-boða, fathered by the trickster Loki. He was thrown into the oceans by Odin, the high god of the old Scandinavian religion, where it seems as though the mighty one sealed his own fate.

Nobody knows for sure how fragile the Conveyor belt is or how any change in the flow of these magnificent ocean rivers will reflect upon the stability of tomorrow´s climate. Those who fear the worst see a new Ice Age and the end of our civilisation as a result of any disturbance of the Midgard serpent. The disturbances of Jörmungandur, the Midgard Serpent, is a part of the doomsday scenario described in the old sayings of the “völvas”. Edda, the collected sayings of the Scandinavian myths, informs us that a giant winter, Fimbulvetur, will come at the end of times. It is supposed to last for three years causing devastation to the inhabitants of the world, changing the climate dramatically. As the old Prophecy has it:

It gorges upon the flesh of death-promised men,
It bloodies the Gods seat;
Black will shine the sun
During next summers,
Awful all the storms.
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Thor battles the Serpent
More is Ragnarök, the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine -ed.). Men will be at each others throats, the innocent will suffer and dreadful giants will roam the earth fighting the old Æsir-gods (I wonder how REM feel about that -ed).

From the East drives Hrymur, lifts up his shield;
Jörmungandur squirms with rage
Taken by the giants’ frenzy.
The great worm whips the waves
the pale-beaked eagle Niðfölur pecks at the dead,
The ship of death Naglfari is free.

Odin himself is swallowed by the Fenris-wolf and other gods drop dead in as different ways as they are many. The world-serpent, Jörmungandur, twists and turns in the ocean, causing a tidal wave and engages in the final battle with Thor, the great warrior-son of the earth, Fjörgyn. That great warrior gives Jörmundgandur his final blow, but Thor only manages to take nine steps away from the grand serpent corpse and there he drops dead himself, unable to bear the venom from the serpents mouth.

The next Ice Age
The weak spot in the ocean’s conveyor belt is north of Iceland. Scientists worry that rapidly melting arctic ice will result in a huge increase in the flow of fresh and cold currents from the north. This in turn could disrupt the conveyor belt or possibly push south the northern sink. That could again lead to the next Ice Age, with permafrost in most parts of Northern America and Europe. The worst thing is that scientists have a hard time settling their differences on whether this will be a gradual change, taking decades, or whether this will not materialise in hundreds or thousands of years. Then again, there is evidence, for example from the core drilling to the bottom of Greenland Glacier, that climate changes can be sudden.

If there is any consolation, the Old Norse mythologies promised a fair afterlife, although very few made it as almost the entire population was wiped out of existence.

It is only a little more than a decade ago that wise men of our time discovered the interconnectedness of the world oceans and how life on earth draws its life from this magnificent mechanism. Honest scientists will admit that the elements of this ocean serpent are still hidden from them. Most will admit as well that even a slight disturbance of Jörmungand could have a tremendous impact on our lives. If man by his actions is disturbing the peace of the serpent, he might have sacrificed too much.

Odin, possibly thinking as a true environmentalist might have, had this in mind when he says in his poem: “Better not to pray at all, than to sacrifice too much. A gift requires a gift in return”.

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