Little Ice Age – Mega Famines – part 1

The Little Ice Age 1280-1850 AD – The Wolf, Sporer, Maunder and Dalton minima’s(1), Paleo climatologists, Little Ice Age , Medieval Maximum, Roman cooling, Dark Ages, frozen English channel, plague 1347 AD, Ion Effect, Sunspot climate control, Isotopic oxygen 16, Greenland, Iceland, Baker sunspots.

Although the period of the “Little Ice Age” is a scientific reconstruction it covers a period when there was a significant down turn in climate, compared to the present era. These are classified into four periods when the climate deteriorated significantly. This deterioration was not only cooler and wetter on average but vastly more erratic and these are prime ingredients for famine. These erratic periods were the Wolf, Sporer, Maunder and Dalton minima’s(2) respectively.

They followed a period known as the “Medieval maximum” which some contend was warmer than the present period(3). This earlier warm time was generally a period of expansion and prosperity for civilizations(4).

little ice age mega famines

However the later minima periods saw the growth of glaciers down mountains, the growth of sea ice, particularly severe storms, high rainfall and much colder climates(5). Even thick sea ice cover in the English Channel occurred(6). It coincidentally was a period when major plagues ravaged Europe(7) and probably the rest of the world. It was a global phenomenon. Perhaps the causes may have been in the underplaying drivers of weather which I will contend are largely due to the influence of the Sun.

Mega Famines and the Ion Effect

The book, the Ion Effect(8), has cited evidence that bacteria become more virile and invasive at times when their environment is surrounded by positive ions… This certainly can be the case when cosmic rays from the Sun are more intense and this is encountered when sunspot activity is at a minimal. There is strong evidence that the various minima’s were associated with times of low sunspot activity(9). The plagues attending the Little Ice Age were devastating. For instance the plague of 1347 AD depopulated Europe so badly that it took two hundred and fifty years to return to a pre plague position(10). Alternatively, inclement weather and starvation from famine may be the immediate determinate laying humans open to disease.

little ice age 1280 1850 AD causes reasons

Mega Famines

However our focus will be on an investigation into the general effects these weather patterns had on food supplies. I will also argue that these famines, unlike most modern examples, were not the result of human folly but were overwhelming in nature.

Most modern famines, although severe and obviously connected to weather patterns can often be blamed for their magnitude on human factors such as war, bureaucratic incompetence, internal strife and inflexible distribution problems. In the case of many of the Little Ice Age famines, occurring, as they did, in periods of erratic and severe climatic inclemency, I suspect that the dramatic minima have overwhelmed human adaptability. To see if this was the case I will nominate a few select cases where I suspect this is evident. These will be in areas where climate was a more critical factor. Case studies of Iceland, Greenland, the Scandinavian countries and a South American example will be cited.



In addition recent studies from Baker(11) on sunspots and their relation to drought will be cited to help understand natures, some say predictable role in exacerbating famine(12). I will also see if any evidence exists for overriding cycles in weather deterioration. I am thinking here of evidence from ice core and other sedimentation studies that examine the concentration of Isotopic Oxygen 16 etc. which are signals for annual precipitation and deposition levels at that location. They certainly are used to draw on weather patterns going back over 100,000 years. Can they be used here? Tree ring studies are of a similar use(13). Do they reveal more general climatic patterns which in turn reveal likelihood of famine?

Peter Mungo Jupp

1 Parker PLATE 1
2 Parker PLATE 1
3 Plimer 2009 p.63.
4 Plimer 2009 p.70.
5 Plimer2009. P.p.72-86.
6 Plimer 2009 p38
7 Plimer 2008.p46
8 Ion effect
9 Parker 1999.pp399-416.
10 Plimer 2008.p.76.
11 Baker 2006
12 Lockwood 1999. pp.437-439
13 Baillie1982.

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