THE LITTLE ICE AGE 1280-1850 AD – GISP2 volcanic markers, Isotopic Oxygen 16, Paleoclimate,, sunspot observations, Magnetosphere, NASA, severe sea floods, Ian Plimer, Summit Greenland Ice core studies, McKirrick and McIntyre, Mann hockey stick, Claude Schaeffer, Mike Baillie, The Ion effect, Harvey Weiss, Peterson ocean core studies, Sequoia dendritic rings, uniformitarianism, Georges Cuvier.
Europe generally during the Little Ice Age
As further proof of the severity of the weather in this region during the Little Ice Age it is important to study the record of severe storms (see Plate 8). Similarly the advance of glaciers is important as an indicator of the severity and coldness of the weather over a sustained, if erratic, period. Various tax records show glaciers over the years destroying whole towns caught in their path. A few major advances, as noted by Ladurie(1) appear below:
- 1595: Gietroz (Switzerland) glacier advances, dammed Dranse River, and caused flooding of Bagne with 70 deaths.
- 1600-10: Advances by Chamonix (France) glaciers because massive floods which destroyed three villages and severely damaged a fourth. One village had stood since the 1200’s.
- 1670-80’s: Maximum historical advances by glaciers in eastern Alps. Noticeable decline of human population by this time in areas close to glaciers, whereas population elsewhere in Europe had risen.
- 1695-1709: Iceland glaciers advance dramatically, destroying farms.
- 1710-1735: A glacier in Norway was advancing at a rate of 100 m per year for 25 years.
- 1748-50: Norwegian glaciers achieved their historical maximum LIA positions.
Further to this we must include anecdotal but legitimate evidence regarding ice formation throughout. An example is the world phenomena of Ice Fares such as the ones on the Thames that only ended in 1815(2).
Britain and its Naval records during the Little Ice Age
It has become fashionable to dismiss the Ice Fares as only occurring because the Thames was more sluggish but water still freezes over at zero degrees Celsius. And the Thames seems too large a river to change significantly.
More telling however is the formation of Ice in the English Channel in salt water which requires even lower temperatures to freeze. In 1684 AD the coast of the English Channel had a six kilometre belt of ice around it.(3) This is a true indication of bitter cold only experienced today in truly arctic locations.
Another more scientific witness is the nautical log books of the British navy and the East India Company(4). These go well back into the early seventeenth century. These are a wealth of knowledge of temperatures, violent storms, barometric pressure. More they scale the world as they record for instance Cook’s Antarctic exploration in the mid eighteenth century and Darwin’s trips to the America’s. They faithfully reproduce the exigencies of the Little Ice Age both in Europe and the rest of the world.
There were typically rapid fluctuations in temperature and precipitation. Extremely cold and wet periods were followed by excessively hot years. Following the growth years of the medieval warm period there was global massive depopulation with the available food supplies unable to feed the excessive population.(5) This was a global event with larger impacts in particular areas.
Other parts of the world during the Little Ice Age
In North America forests reacted to the extremes of the Little Ice Age. For instance in the Sierra Nevada mountains tree ring growth mimics climate extremes showing the much colder times endured by foxtail pine and western Juniper. In the Nevada trees that are over 5500 years old (Sequoia) show in their dendritic rings sequences that match those derived from central England(6). In the Pacific island areas there was great reduction in population at the beginning of the Little Ice Age(7). They too show climate stress during the various minima. Certainly in the Northern Hemisphere this climate downturn seems ubiquitous.
The idea of dramatic climate change, at once extreme and chaotic, flies in the face of uniformitarianism as preached by Hutton and Lyle the fathers of modern geology. Their idea was that geological change was wrought by slow processes and that the slow processes that occur today are basically no different from the past. This idea or meme has affected much of modern thinking where many processes are viewed as cyclic and predictable except for the interfering hand of mankind. This is certainly the view of the
IPCC where a relatively smooth fluctuation of weather over the last two millennia is insisted upon. The early19th century French palaeontologist Cuvier believed that great catastrophes marked past events in the historical record and in fact ice core studies seem to bear this out. But recently viewpoints have begun to collide with accepted dogma. Perhaps the first of the modern scientists to question this attitude was Claude Schaeffer(8) who noted.
“I was tempted to look for the causes (of catastrophes) among which were earthquakes, tidal waves, climatic changes and other natural catastrophic agents. When their testimony will have been shown, those great crises will explain better than before, the historical development of the most ancient civilizations and its mechanism, and they will definitely take out of the hands of man the command of the great historical happenings we thought he possessed.”
Harvey Weiss from Princeton followed these ideas up when he claimed that under our noses was the real cause of collapse of civilizations. He came from an era where human agency in the form of war, politics and ineptitude was blamed for the rise, fall and abandonment of civilizations His discovery from core studied in the Persian Gulf convinced him that the abandonment of such settlements as Tel Leilan(9) in Syria was due to a three hundred year wind born famine interspersed with catastrophic flooding. In other words periods of climatic chaos. Peterson(10) used similar ocean core studies dating from 900 AD to establish the reasons for collapse in a formerly thriving Mayan nation. The lesson is that periods of disastrous climatic adversity have occurred in the past that do not happen today. This is a useful parallel to Little Ice Age.
The vast majority of scientific and historical accounts relate tell how the Little Ice Age was a cold, wet and, fluctuating reality that drastically disrupted the fortunes of mankind. Regardless of your opinions on modern climate change and the possibility of its anthropogenic causes this previous unfortunate era was unshaped by the hand of mankind. If he dwelt on the geographically vulnerable boundaries of civilization in areas such as Greenland, Iceland and higher mountainous settlements was highly vulnerable and abandonment was a common outcome. These were the places where human ingenuity was not enough to overcome dramatic climate instability.
It is also to be noted that widespread disease was an natural accompaniment of these scenarios and it goes beyond this paper to investigate if this related phenomena was merely the outcome of a stressed population or if disease in the shape of bacteria a and viruses etc are more invasive during sunspot minima. Many other plagues are responsive to cosmic flux and I suspect research could yield great understanding of this relationship as it purports to do regarding climatic cycles. My final conclusion is that this time of the little Ice Age was dissimilar to modern famines where much of its severity depends on human vagaries such as efficient distribution, war or the machinations of politics. These times often lacked the ability to be moderated by human ingenuity.
Peter Mungo Jupp
1 Ladune 1971(http://www2.sunysuffolk.edu/mandias/
2 Plimer 2008.p.81.
3 Plimer.2008. p.81.
5 Plimer 2008.p.73.
6 LaMarche 1974. Pp1043-1048
7 Plimer citing Nunn.2008 p72.
8 Schaeffer 1973 personal correspondence V.archive.
9 Weiss 2002.pp71-78
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