Little Ice Age began with a bang

Russ Steele

I have alway had this nagging suspicion that when sun spots are lowest the volcanic activity is higher,  but have not found the data to confirm my suspicions.This paper reported on in Science News may prompt me to redouble my effort.

Frozen moss suggests climate cooling kicked off fast, possibly with help from volcanoes

The Little Ice Age, a centuries-long spell of cold summers in Europe and elsewhere, began suddenly late in the 13th century, a new study finds. A string of volcanic explosions may have set off this change in climate by belching particles that reflected sunlight and allowed Arctic sea ice to reach epic proportions, researchers report online January 31 inGeophysical Research Letters.

“We’ve been able to identify the beginning of the Little Ice Age, something that’s been very difficult to do in the past,” says Gifford Miller, a paleoclimatologist and geologist at the University of Colorado Boulder. “This cooling wasn’t gradual; it was an abrupt shift.”

It’s long been known that much of the globe became chillier during the Renaissance. By the 17th century, temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere had fallen by half a degree Celsius compared with medieval times. Ice skating on London’s frozen River Thames became popular.

To pin down when this climate change began, Miller’s team traveled to Baffin Island on the northern fringes of Canada. Small glaciers in this region tend to respond quickly to temperature changes. Carbon dating of moss entombed in Baffin’s ice revealed two sudden advances of the snow line that killed off the vegetation: a sudden cold spell between 1275 to 1300, followed by intensifying cold between 1430 and 1455.

Testing whether this chill extended beyond Canada took the researchers to the Langjökull glacier, the second largest ice cap in Iceland. Layered sediments from a nearby lake appeared progressively thicker in the 14th century — exactly what would be expected if the glacier expanded and ground away the landscape.

These chillier conditions began during an especially active time for volcanoes. “The second half of the 13th century had the most volcanism of any period of the past 1,500 years,” says Alan Robock, an atmospheric scientist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

Miller and his colleagues may not have noticed, is that both cooling periods occurred in sync with low sunspot activity. Those two periods of low sunspot activity are known respectively as the Wolf Minimum and the Sporer Minimum.

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About Russ Steele

Freelance writer and climate change blogger. Russ spent twenty years in the Air Force as a navigator specializing in electronics warfare and digital systems. After his service he was employed for sixteen years as concept developer for TRW, an aerospace and automotive company, and then was CEO of a non-profit Internet provider for 18 months. Russ's articles have appeared in Comstock's Business, Capitol Journal, Trailer Life, Monitoring Times, and Idaho Magazine.
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7 Responses to Little Ice Age began with a bang

  1. Can volcanoes drop the temperature (that much)?
    “9/11 study: Air traffic affects climate”

    http://articles.cnn.com/2002-08-07/tech/contrails.climate_1_contrails-cirrus-clouds-david-travis?_s=PM:TECH

    “During the three-day commercial flight hiatus, when the artificial clouds known as contrails all but disappeared, the variations in high and low temperatures increased by 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) each day, said meteorological researchers.”

    I’ve seen a video about it some time ago and this is what I got from it.

    1) The day temperature increased more than with the artificial clouds
    2) The night temperature decreased more than with the artificial clouds
    This is, by my understanding, not a change in the average temperature.

    It actually acts the same way the real clouds do. I’ve learned as a child when we had a clear sky in the Winter night the temperature dropped dramatically. If we had a cloud cover in the night temperature didn’t drop that much. The day temperature acted the opposite way.

    How do we know that the temperature under an ash cloud can go so far into the negative that the London Thames would freeze so much that they can have ice fairs in the Winter time. Actually, look at all the images in Google Images Search and you can see that there is even blue sky with some clouds in the pictures.
    Another thing, if the ash cloud dropped so much the temperature in the Winter, the food production would be close to zero. I’m just guessing, but I believe they sold food and drinks at these frost fairs.
    Of course, people died in these years. But look at our last Winter. How many people died in our modern time with a fairly good support system and plenty of food.
    Example: “Europe’s deep freeze: death toll mounts” http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2012/0207/1224311400318.html

    Gifford Miller and his team try to proof that all the temperature decreases is Earth based. They don’t accept any outside variation. At least we humans are not responsible for volcano eruptions (so far).

  2. Sean says:

    Do the ice core records show have any indication of the volcanic activity. I know that during the super explosions like Tambora or Krakatoa they find a conductive layer in the ice due to the washed out sulfates and sulfuric acid being captured in the snow.

  3. Anthony j. Mengotto says:

    Russ, I think volcano eruptions is one of the factors. I know low solar activity is the major factor. Because I just read at http://climate4you.com/ that nigara falls was frozen solid back in 1911!!!!! I do not remember reading about any volcanic eruptions anywhere at that time. I do know, that was during solar cycle 14 which peaked with 65 smooth sunspots according to http://www.solen.info/solar/cycl14.html What I can only say to that is, think of how cold it was back then to freeze running water going down and over the falls!!!!! Minus what? -10F. ,-20F. or -30F. And, how many day’s or week’s was it at that temperature in order for the fall’s to freeze like that!!!! We may be getting to that point soon.As it happen at the end of solar cycle 14 which was from February 1902 – August 1913. Russ, can history repeat it self during this decade? Remember that was only 101 years ago. Have we warmed up enough in order to avoid this? I don’t think so.Things are going to change real quick after were past solar max!!!! I just hope you, and everyone prepare for what’s coming unless we get alot of comet’s impacting the sun during the minimum to speed up the convayor belt to make the sun more active. You and I will never see global warming again in our lifetime and as for the next generation, they might see some warming when there ready to retire.This could last 50 if not 60 years before a warm up to modern day temps. are back if you go according to the dalton minimum temps. Then again, I think it took longer than that. Anthony

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