The “Little Ice Age” impacted Europe with sudden and vicious results! Using its weapons, of Plague, famine and controversially earthquake, it reduced the population of Europe by around 30 – 50 percent. The virulence and death toll of the 1348 AD plague is totally unmatched by modern examples! Further the world mega famine of 1315 AD, due to both weather and pestilence, was catastrophic.
Documentation of cannibalism and infant abandonment were common. The relentless temperature drops combined with erratic weather are impossible to explain but mankind had no hand in its inception. What forces of nature caused this catastrophic scenario? Greenland is a classic example of death and abandonment. Let’s travel back in time and see what happened!
Although the “Little Ice Age” is a scientific reconstruction it covers a period when there was a significant and chaotic down turn in climate, compared to the present era. It is classified into four periods from around 1280 AD to 1850 AD . These erratic periods science records as the Wolf, Sporer, Maunder and Dalton weather minima. This dramatic deterioration was not only cooler, wetter and windier on average but vastly more chaotic. These are prime ingredients for famine and curiously plague.
The “Little Ice Age” followed a period known as the “Medieval maximum” around 900AD – 1280 AD, which copious records reveal, was much warmer than modern times. For instance grapevines grew in the area of today’s shivering Wales! This was generally a period of prosperity for civilizations. There was a large increase in world population and an era of colonial expansion. During the years 800 AD-1200 AD, Greenland and Iceland were settled by the Vikings. The “Medieval Warm Period” allowed this great migration to flourish. Drift ice at later dates posed the greatest hazard to sailors but reports of drift ice in old records do not appear until the thirteenth century.
Greenland was settled when Eric Asvaldsson was banished from Iceland for killing two men. He converted his misfortune into the foundation of a new colony. The initial settlement was on a deep fiord on the south-western coast (next to today’s arctic Canada). Conditions were similar to Iceland, itself then enjoying a warm temperate climate. Chroniclers even mention swimming in Greenland’s Fjords! Totally impossible today. The bones of cattle, sheep, pigs and goats collected from archaeological sites reveal the existence of large farms with large productive pastures in what is now often snow covered wasteland. Eric drew thousands to these three new areas. The Greenland Vikings lived mostly on dairy produce and meat, primarily from cows. Before 1300 AD trade with European countries was brisk with many ships plying to and fro trading timber, iron, and salt, corn in exchange for furs, skins, butter, cheese and wool. Expansion was in fact prolific enough for the Pope to send a bishop to Greenland. Today only rare earth exports to China are viable!
The “Medieval Warm period” period of warmer times with a predictable climate. Crops flourished and the human race multiplied. Germany recorded vineyard growth 700 foot higher than at present. Temperatures averaged 2 degrees centigrade warmer than now. China was 3 degrees centigrade warmer. Our world was a different place! Ian Plimer uses evidence from tree ring growth, ice cores, sediment cores, glacier retrenchment, sea ice reports plus a wealth of anecdotal evidence!
The “Little Ice Age” dramatically changed this picture with the growth of glaciers down mountains in both Europe and China. Growth of sea ice, severe and prolific storms, high rainfall and colder erratic climates became relentless. Thick sea ice, 3 miles wide, sometimes bordered the English Channel. It was a period when major plagues and famines ravaged the world. Chaotic weather, I will argue, are largely due to cosmic influences. These are electro-magnetic forces! This overriding “harmonic” influences sunspots, CMEs, Solar flares, comets, planets and drives the Solar System? Constant change within this “harmonic”, not uniformity, is the norm. What we see in today’s world is not what happened in other eras.
These constantly changing cosmic influences caused Western Europe to experience a general cooling of the climate between the years 1150 AD and 1460 AD and even colder climate between 1560 AD and 1850 AD. Dire consequences shocked its peoples. Not only was it colder, wetter and windier but notably erratic and out of season! The colder weather impacted agriculture, health, economics, social strife and emigration! Increased glaciations, multiple severe storms and major floods and winds devastated society! Old sea logs and city records reveal all.
But what happened to the Vikings in Greenland? By the year 1300 AD more than 3,000 colonists lived on 300 farms scattered along the west coast of Greenland. Around 1200 AD drift ice forced ships further south to reach the settlements! on the south west coast alongside Canada. In the 1300’s Bardsson wrote:
“From Snefelsness in Iceland, to Greenland, the shortest way: two days and three nights. Sailing due west. In the sea there are reefs called Gunbiernershier. That was the old route, but now the ice is come from the north, so close to the reefs that none can sail by the old route without risking his life.”
By 1500 AD the Pope complained that no bishop had been able to visit Greenland for 80 years on account of the ice. His Greenland congregation was already dead! The graves and ruins show that the cold and lack of nourishment turned the average Greenlander from their 5’7″ to a severely crippled, twisted and diseased dwarf like 5′ by 1400 AD.
The Iceland Vikings fared little better as its population shrunk from 80,000 around 1100 AD to 38,000 by 1850 AD at the end of the “Little Ice Age”! By the time Columbus set sail in 1492 AD, Greenland was “dead” and Iceland was struggling to survive.
The “Little Ice Age” minima was a harsh reality. But what were the causes? Certainly not higher CO2 levels from mankind’s puny efforts! Let’s examine the part sun spot minima and maxima play on the climate stage as we try to understand the effect these cycles have on famine and plague. Sunspot activity and therefore solar flux are an ingredient in controlling our climate. Flux is the emission of various positive ions and electrons emitted by the Sun that mediate cosmic rays and thus, as Henri Svensmark maintains, weather and precipitation. Cosmic rays interact with the Earth’s Magnetosphere. Thus drier, wetter, windier and hotter or colder times.
Both the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis put on dramatic displays when there is a coronal mass ejection. In addition Both Parker and Lockwood were able to tie sunspot maxima and minima into solar luminosity and isotope concentrations! The solar flare and CME which attended the ” Carrington event” of 1859 is a glaring example of a massive solar inundation that was accompanied by the worst storm of the 19th century.
It appears that the sunspot eleven year cycle is also linked into the severity of hurricanes and droughts. This is the thinking of the U.S National Centre for Atmospheric research (NCAR). Baker from the University of New England believes it is a vehicle to predict times of drought. His tracking of sunspots since records were kept in 1876 AD shows that switches in the sun’s poles and magnetic field every eleven years consistently effect Australia’s weather.
Compilation of sunspot records, which have been kept for four centuries, fit in well with times of drought. At times of prosperity the sunspot activity is high. Grain prices are low. At low sunspot activity we have crop failure and high grain prices. Drought varies over a full twenty two year cycle with an eleven year maxima to minima turnaround time.
There must be a further factor that drives the whole sunspot cycle up and down and this is what causes deeper and colder maxima and minima to cause a “Little Ice Age”. It demands a cosmic cause! Historian Jean de Venette wrote a curious piece that may provide a clue to this unsolved climate mystery:
“In the month of August, 1348 AD, after Vespers when the sun was beginning to set, a big and very bright star appeared above Paris, toward the west. It did not seem, as stars usually do, to be very high above our hemisphere but rather very near. As the sun set and night came on, this star did not seem to me or to many other friars who were watching it to move from one place. At length, when night had come, this big star, to the amazement of all of us who were watching, broke into many different rays and, as it shed these rays over Paris toward the east, totally disappeared and was completely annihilated. Whether it was a comet or not, whether it was composed of airy exhalations and was finally resolved into vapour, I leave to the decision of astronomers. It is, however, possible that it was a presage of the amazing pestilence to come, which, in fact, followed very shortly in Paris an throughout France and elsewhere”.
Comets throughout history have been portrayed as predictors of doom. Bright comets are often, historically, in conjunction with plague, famine and earthquakes. Is this mere coincidence? The dramatic electrical discharge of comet shoemaker levy 9 as it split into 23 sections and assaulted Jupiter is a landmark in modern cosmology.
The impact of some comets into the Sun causing incredibly large Coronal Mass Ejections ( CMEs) is equally hard to explain. Could comets have electro-magnetic effects on weather, life and the geology of the Earth. It is still a mystery but one we are getting closer to understand.
Peter Mungo Jupp