Another Little Ice Age Re-Discovered
In the year 536 AD the sun dimmed, and the gloom lasted for more than an entire year. There were frosts and snows in the middle of summer and observers reported that winter never really ended. The sudden shift in climate lead to famine, plague and the fall of empires. What was worse, that year was only the beginning of a shift in climate that brought misery to the entire Northern Hemisphere for more than a century. Yet this well documented period of global cooling was smoothed away by climate change alarmists in works of fabricated data like the infamous “hockey stick” tree ring history. A new analysis has rediscovered this dark period in recent human history, fittingly made possible by new tree-ring measurements from the Altai mountains in Russia. The results help complete a climatological history stretching back 2,500 years. Climate history is a pesky thing, it just won't go away and can't be changed to fit some scientists pet theories.
Most people have heard of the Little Ice Age, the prolonged period of cold weather that afflicted the world for centuries and didn't end until just prior to the American Civil War. Many scientists have been speculating that the marked lack of solar activity may indicate the start of a new period of global cooling. Interestingly, this period that preceded the Medieval Warm Period has been all but ignored by the more vocal proponents of global warming, many publishing charts that show no sign of this dramatic and desperate time in human history. Feats of climatic legerdemain not withstanding, scientists have documented this period before, starting with ice core data.
As can be seen in the temperature plot above, both the Little Ice Age and Late Antique Little Ice Age are clearly visible. Of course these data were taken from an ice core from the Greenland ice sheet and that doesn't mean that temperatures plummeted around the world at this time. That is where the new study by Ulf Büntgen, of the Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, and colleagues comes in. Entitled “Cooling and societal change during the Late Antique Little Ice Age from 536 to around 660 AD,” their research helps confirm what others have reported, including eye witnesses to those dire days.
The sun began to be darkened by day and the moon by night, while the ocean was tumultuous with spray from the 24th of March in this year till the 24th of June in the following year… And, as the winter was a severe one, so much so that from the large and unwonted quantity of snow the birds perished… there was distress… among men… from the evil things.
The above was recorded by Byzantine historian Procopius of Caesarea, while traveling in Italy around 536 AD. But Italy was not the only land feeling the freeze. From Italy to Ireland, from China to Central America, the year 536 was the beginning of a century-long cold period that spelled misery for most of mankind. How bad was it? The lead author put it this way: “This was the most dramatic cooling in the Northern Hemisphere in the past 2,000 years.”
Büntgen et al. were reportedly struck by the 6th century cold period, claiming it exhibited even lower temperatures, longer duration, and a larger area impact than the temperature decline during the Little Ice Age. Here is how they described their work and findings in the paper's abstract:
Climatic changes during the first half of the Common Era have been suggested to play a role in societal reorganizations in Europe and Asia. In particular, the sixth century coincides with rising and falling civilizations, pandemics, human migration and political turmoil. Our understanding of the magnitude and spatial extent as well as the possible causes and concurrences of climate change during this period is, however, still limited. Here we use tree-ring chronologies from the Russian Altai and European Alps to reconstruct summer temperatures over the past two millennia. We find an unprecedented, long-lasting and spatially synchronized cooling following a cluster of large volcanic eruptions in 536, 540 and 547 AD, which was probably sustained by ocean and sea-ice feedbacks, as well as a solar minimum. We thus identify the interval from 536 to about 660 AD as the Late Antique Little Ice Age. Spanning most of the Northern Hemisphere, we suggest that this cold phase be considered as an additional environmental factor contributing to the establishment of the Justinian plague transformation of the eastern Roman Empire and collapse of the Sasanian Empire movements out of the Asian steppe and Arabian Peninsula, spread of Slavic-speaking peoples, and political upheavals in China.
So basically they are attributing the onset of this sudden bout of frigid conditions to a volcanic trifecta over a period of eleven years. While this outbreak of vulcanism might have been the triggering event what is less clear is what prolonged the cold snap. Several years, even a decade or two could be chalked up to the volcanoes, but this cold period was much longer. The researchers think the eruptions may have combined with a solar minimum to extending the grip of the freezing climate for over a century. What is more certain was the impact of the global cooling. The figure below shows part of the timeline provided by the authors.
As can be seen, this was not a fun time on old planet Earth. That the results were global in nature are also quite clear. “The course temperatures took in the Altai mountains corresponds remarkably well to what we found for the Alps,” says Büntgen. Proto-Slavic-speaking people migrated into the eastern areas of modern-day Europe previously abandoned by the Romans, forming the Slavic language region.
According to the researchers, this period of cooling may also have fostered the expansion of the Arab Empire in the Middle East. The Arabian Peninsula received more precipitation, promoting vegetation growth, which may have translated into larger herds of camels. These were used by the Islamic Arab armies for their campaigns of conquest. Indeed, this isn't the first time such a linkage has been suggested. British writer David Keys wrote a book in 1999 claiming that the cooling reshaped global history, playing a part in the rise of Islam and the migration of the Mongols.
Changes could be seen in other areas as well. Hostilities broke out in the steppe regions of northern China between nomadic groups and local powers. Eventually, an alliance between these steppe nomads and the Eastern Roman Empire dismembered the Sassanian Empire in Persia, leading to its collapse. The trail of upheaval goes on and on. Was all this chaos because of climate change? Büntgen says their study serves as an example of how sudden climatological shifts can change existing political systems: “We can learn something from the speed and scale of the transformations that took place at that time.”
The take home lesson in all of this is clear—when it comes to climate change it is cooling that is dangerous, not warming. Our supposedly sweltering climate has not caused anything like the Plague of Justinian, illustrated above. Trust our ancestors when they tell us that a warming climate, as in the Roman warm period and Medieval Warm Period, is far preferable to cold, as in the Late Antique Little Ice Age and Little Ice Age. So when scientists say that human activity may be extending the current Holocene interglacial we should all jump for joy. Or better still, jump into our SUVs and take a drive. Make no mistake, a few extra degrees of warmth is a blessing and those calling for conditions to be “returned to normal” have no idea what they are asking for, no knowledge of climate history and its impact on human suffering.
Be safe, enjoy the interglacial, and stay skeptical.