Ice Age

Ice Age

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An ice age is a period in which the earth's climate is colder than normal, with ice sheets capping the poles and glaciers dominating higher altitudes. Within an ice age, there are varying pulses of colder and warmer climatic conditions, known as 'glacials' and 'interglacials'. Even within the interglacials, ice continues to cover at least one of the poles. In contrast, outside an ice age temperatures are higher and more stable, and there is far less ice all around. The earth has thus far made it through at least five significant ice ages.

One glance at our icy poles and frozen peaks makes it clear that our current epoch (the Holocene, c. 12,000-present day) actually represents an interglacial within the ice age that spans the Quaternary geological period, which started around 2,6 million years ago and encompasses both the Pleistocene (c. 2,6 million years ago - c. 12,000 years ago) and the Holocene epochs. This entire period is characterised by cycles of ups and downs in ice sheet volumes and temperatures which can sometimes change as much as 15°C within a couple of decades. This rapidly overturning climate can have huge knock-on effects all around the world, altering vegetation and the types of animals that can survive in certain areas, and it helped shape human evolution, too. It is because of its connection with our own story that this definition will largely focus on the Quaternary ice age, and mostly on the to us more unfamiliar world of the Pleistocene, with its magnificent mammoths and long-toothed cats surviving alongside early human hunter-gatherers weaving their way through these volatile conditions.

During the cold swings, temperatures could reach up to a terrifying 21°C colder than the present.


After the Antarctic ice sheet first began to spread its chilly fingers through the world's oceans around 38 million years ago, the cooling oceans allowed for the earth's temperature swings to become stronger and stronger. A major cooling-down step occurred around 2,6 million years ago at the start of the Quaternary, and it was followed by steps around 1,8 million years ago, c. 900,000 years ago, and c. 400,000 years ago that became ever harsher.

This increasing strength is especially noticeable from around 900,000 years ago onwards, as it was not until this point that major glaciations - with sweeping ice sheets covering higher altitudes across Eurasia and North America – became common features of the Quaternary ice age. From this time on, survival was definitely no walk in the park but required coping with much more extreme conditions. During the cold swings, temperatures could reach up to a terrifying 21°C colder than the present, although the average lies closer to 5°C colder than today. During Quaternary glaciations in general, because of the amount of water stuck in frozen form, sea levels could be up to 120 meters lower than they are now. A lot more land was thus left uncovered for species to explore, and places such as the British Isles could suddenly be reached because the North Sea would turn into a sort of North Land during these times. Meanwhile, while the earth's northern reaches were covered by tundra, Africa became drier.

Glacial climates – which varied in strength, effect, and affected different areas in different ways – generally crept up quite gradually, beginning with cooler and wetter conditions that eventually climaxed in a cold and dry phase. The ice sheets grew so thick that they would cling on for a while into the start of a warming trend, only to collapse suddenly, leading to a very sudden switch into an interglacial. Temperatures could then remain quite peachy for a good while, and the world saw higher sea levels and actually accessible higher latitudes. During the last ~1,2 million years, these cycles were generally around 100,000 years in length.

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For species to be able to adapt to these fickle conditions is not an easy task, especially considering the speed at which things could change.

Faunal diversity

The cover girl of the Pleistocene is without a doubt the woolly mammoth; huge, towering, curved-tusked, shaggy-coated foragers related to elephants. They actually originated in Africa and during the Pleistocene set out on a trek towards the northern tundras. They were not the only species that flourished during this period. The appearance and expansion of, among others, the genus Equus (which includes horses and zebra), bison, aurochs, hippopotamus, giant ground sloths, voles, the deer family (among which oversized versions such as Megaloceros or Giant Deer, and the moose genus), and the second woolly powerhouse – the woolly rhinoceros – filled in the prehistoric landscape.

The predators wanting to feast on such diversity did not lag behind; sabre-toothed cats (who were generally not closely related to cats) munched away on prey throughout the Pleistocene, and lions ranged all the way from southern Africa to southern North America during the late Pleistocene, including cave lions that lived all the way from Europe to western Canada. Caves were popular; cave bears could be found throughout Europe and Asia up to the northeast of Siberia, and the same goes for the cave hyena.

The disappearance of the megafauna

Such diversity is hard to imagine from our own point of view, in a time when humans have shaped the world to suit their own needs to such an extent the habitats of many animals have already shrunk or disappeared completely. Indeed, a lot of the creatures named above have long since vanished from the face of the earth. Quite a few of the big ones, in particular, collectively referred to as the Pleistocene megafauna, seem to have dwindled and died out towards the end of the Pleistocene in a massive extinction event.

The last of the cave bears seem to have met their end somewhere between c. 30,500 - c. 28,500 years ago, around the time of the Last Glacial Maximum (the most recent glacial, in which the ice sheets reached peak growth between c. 26,500 to c. 19,000 years ago). In fact, the northern reaches of Eurasia saw as much as around 37% of species weighing upwards of 44 kg disappear from this time onwards. Species such as cave lions and woolly rhinoceros clung on until c. 14,000 years ago, the latter already having retreated far into northeastern Siberia as a final refuge by this time, seemingly having trouble dealing with the late-glacial warming climate (which also affected the plants it normally ate).

Our iconic mammoth actually survived into the Holocene (alongside the Giant Deer, which is last known from the Urals in Siberia around 7700 years ago), albeit pushed back to a last retreat at Wrangel Island in Arctic Siberia where it finally gave in c. 3600 years ago. This is one species on which the impact of climate change can clearly be seen, as after the Last Glacial Maximum ended, the warmer conditions seem to have made a serious dent into the mammoths' climatic niche, and their numbers plummeted. We know that humans also hunted them quite successfully, and it seems the challenging climate left the mammoths quite vulnerable.

This combination of climatic as well as human-induced effects was arguably the culprit when it came to the extinction of more of these Pleistocene favourites, including the Eurasian steppe bison and the wild horse. The finer details are subject to fierce discussion, though.

all the big benchmarks of species appearance within our evolutionary history, as well as different stone technologies, can be linked to periods of very high climatic variation.

Early humans

As with the other fauna, prehistoric humans were directly impacted by the unpredictable Quaternary climate. In fact, it seems that our survival and development was actually shaped by the rapid shifts in conditions that came with the Ice Age; all the big benchmarks of species appearance within our evolutionary history, as well the appearance of the different stone technologies, can be linked to periods of very high climatic variation. Humans thus had to be able to adapt not just, for instance, to rainy forests but also arid grasslands, and the ones who were good at this obviously did better than their more limited peers. As such, humans became ever more resourceful.

Adaptability also means it became possible to move to entirely new areas and learn to cope with their specific quirks and to take advantage of them. Around 870,000 years ago, for instance, there was a marked drop in temperature which pushed large herbivores into southern Europe and opened up a corridor through the Po Valley, of which Homo heidelbergensis seems to have been keenly aware. Within Europe, they then learned to ebb and flow along with the growth and decline of the glaciers and carved out some nice spots for themselves.

The climatic variations also opened up green corridors across the Sahara between roughly 50,000 – c. 45,000 years ago and c. 120,000 – c. 110,000 years ago, interestingly, their appearance coincides with the main migrations of Homo sapiens out of sub-Saharan Africa. Lower sea levels consequently even left Australia within reasonable striking distance, and Beringia was turned into steppe land during the cold snaps, forming a possible passageway for humans into the Americas.

While Homo sapiens flourished in the Late Pleistocene and spread out far and wide, the Neanderthals were not so lucky; while Eurasia was cooling down on its way to the Last Glacial Maximum, it seems their numbers grew smaller. Whether due to climatic conditions, extinction of their prey, competition with the Homo sapiens who arrived after c. 45,000 years ago, a combination of these things or something else entirely, the Neanderthal species (disappeared around 30,000 years ago) can be added to the list of those who did not survive the most recent glacial that took hold of the world. Crucially, the fluctuations in temperature that come along with the glacials and interglacials described in this article are the result of natural processes, whereas today's threat posed by global warming is one that is induced by us humans.

Explainer: How the rise and fall of CO2 levels influenced the ice ages

The Earth’s climate has been quite stable over the past 11,000 years, playing an important role in the development of human civilisation.

Prior to that, the Earth experienced an ice age lasting for tens of thousands of years. The past million years of the Earth’s history has been characterised by a series of ice ages broken up by relatively short periods of warmer temperatures.

These ice ages are triggered and ended by slow changes in the Earth’s orbit. But changing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 also plays a key role in driving both cooling during the onset of ice ages and warming at their end.

The global average temperature was around 4C cooler during the last ice age than it is today. There is a real risk that, if emissions continue to rise, the world warms more this century than it did between the middle of the last ice age 20,000 years ago and today.

In this explainer, Carbon Brief explores how the last ice age provides strong evidence of the role CO2 plays as a “control knob” for the Earth’s climate. It also acts as a cautionary tale of how the climate can experience large changes from relatively small outside “forcings”.

How Many Ice Ages Have Been Recorded?

The Quaternary Ice Age, also known as the Quaternary Glaciation, is the ice age that is currently being experienced by earth. This period of glaciation began approximately 2.58 million years ago and is characterized by the expansion of ice sheets over both Greenland and Antarctica. As these ice sheets have grown, the amount of sunlight reflected back into the atmosphere has also increased, resulting in cooler temperatures across the globe. Several theories exist to explain why the Quaternary Glaciation period has occurred. These theories include everything from the influence of ocean currents to tectonic plate activity.

One thing is certain, the current ice age has had a massive effect on the general geography of the surface of the earth in less time than previous ice ages. The erosion and sedimentary deposits caused by these glaciers has been instrumental in the creation of large mountain ranges, deep river valleys, and lakes and rivers. It is believed that this ice age has resulted in more lakes than any other ice age in the past.


Evidence from mountain glaciers does suggest increased glaciation in a number of widely spread regions outside Europe prior to the twentieth century, including Alaska, New Zealand and Patagonia. However, the timing of maximum glacial advances in these regions differs considerably, suggesting that they may represent largely independent regional climate changes, not a globally-synchronous increased glaciation. Thus current evidence does not support globally synchronous periods of anomalous cold or warmth over this interval, and the conventional terms of "Little Ice Age" and "Medieval Warm Period" appear to have limited utility in describing trends in hemispheric or global mean temperature changes in past centuries. [Viewed] hemispherically, the "Little Ice Age" can only be considered as a modest cooling of the Northern Hemisphere during this period of less than 1°C relative to late twentieth century levels. [11]

The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of 2007 discusses more recent research, giving particular attention to the Medieval Warm Period:

. when viewed together, the currently available reconstructions indicate generally greater variability in centennial time scale trends over the last 1 kyr than was apparent in the TAR. The result is a picture of relatively cool conditions in the seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries and warmth in the eleventh and early fifteenth centuries, but the warmest conditions are apparent in the twentieth century. Given that the confidence levels surrounding all of the reconstructions are wide, virtually all reconstructions are effectively encompassed within the uncertainty previously indicated in the TAR. The major differences between the various proxy reconstructions relate to the magnitude of past cool excursions, principally during the twelfth to fourteenth, seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. [13]

There is no consensus regarding the time when the Little Ice Age began, [14] [15] but a series of events before the known climatic minima has often been referenced. In the 13th century, pack ice began advancing southwards in the North Atlantic, as did glaciers in Greenland. Anecdotal evidence suggests expanding glaciers almost worldwide. Based on radiocarbon dating of roughly 150 samples of dead plant material with roots intact, collected from beneath ice caps on Baffin Island and Iceland, Miller et al. (2012) [7] state that cold summers and ice growth began abruptly between 1275 and 1300, followed by "a substantial intensification" from 1430 to 1455. [7]

In contrast, a climate reconstruction based on glacial length [16] [17] shows no great variation from 1600 to 1850 but strong retreat thereafter.

Therefore, any of several dates ranging over 400 years may indicate the beginning of the Little Ice Age:

  • 1250 for when Atlanticpack ice began to grow cold period possibly triggered or enhanced by the massive eruption of Samalas volcano in 1257 [18]
  • 1275 to 1300 based on the radiocarbon dating of plants killed by glaciation
  • 1300 for when warm summers stopped being dependable in Northern Europe
  • 1315 for the rains and Great Famine of 1315–1317
  • 1560 to 1630 for beginning of worldwide glacial expansion known as the Grindelwald Fluctuation [19]
  • 1650 for the first climatic minimum.

The Little Ice Age ended in the latter half of the 19th century or early in the 20th century. [20] [21] [22]

Europe Edit

The Baltic Sea froze over twice, 1303 and 1306–07 years followed of "unseasonable cold, storms and rains, and a rise in the level of the Caspian Sea.” [23] The Little Ice Age brought colder winters to parts of Europe and North America. Farms and villages in the Swiss Alps were destroyed by encroaching glaciers during the mid-17th century. [24] Canals and rivers in Great Britain and the Netherlands were frequently frozen deeply enough to support ice skating and winter festivals. [24] The first River Thames frost fair was in 1608 and the last in 1814 changes to the bridges and the addition of the Thames Embankment affected the river flow and depth, greatly diminishing the possibility of further freezes. [25] In 1658, a Swedish army marched across the Great Belt to Denmark to attack Copenhagen. The winter of 1794–1795 was particularly harsh: the French invasion army under Pichegru was able to march on the frozen rivers of the Netherlands, and the Dutch fleet was locked in the ice in Den Helder harbour.

Sea ice surrounding Iceland extended for miles in every direction, closing harbors to shipping. The population of Iceland fell by half, but that may have been caused by skeletal fluorosis after the eruption of Laki in 1783. [26] Iceland also suffered failures of cereal crops and people moved away from a grain-based diet. [27] The Norse colonies in Greenland starved and vanished by the early 15th century, as crops failed and livestock could not be maintained through increasingly harsh winters. Greenland was largely cut off by ice from 1410 to the 1720s. [28]

In his 1995 book the early climatologist Hubert Lamb said that in many years, "snowfall was much heavier than recorded before or since, and the snow lay on the ground for many months longer than it does today." [29] In Lisbon, Portugal, snowstorms were much more frequent than today one winter in the 17th century produced eight snowstorms. [30] Many springs and summers were cold and wet but with great variability between years and groups of years. This was particularly evident during the 'Grindelwald Fluctuation' (1560-1630): a rapid cooling phase that was associated with more erratic weather - including increased storminess, unseasonal snow storms and droughts. [31] Crop practices throughout Europe had to be altered to adapt to the shortened, less reliable growing season, and there were many years of dearth and famine (such as the Great Famine of 1315–1317, but that may have been before the Little Ice Age). [32] According to Elizabeth Ewan and Janay Nugent, "Famines in France 1693–94, Norway 1695–96 and Sweden 1696–97 claimed roughly 10 percent of the population of each country. In Estonia and Finland in 1696–97, losses have been estimated at a fifth and a third of the national populations, respectively." [33] Viticulture disappeared from some northern regions and storms caused serious flooding and loss of life. Some of them resulted in permanent loss of large areas of land from the Danish, German, and Dutch coasts. [29]

The violin maker Antonio Stradivari produced his instruments during the Little Ice Age. The colder climate is proposed to have caused the wood used in his violins to be denser than in warmer periods, contributing to the tone of his instruments. [34] According to the science historian James Burke, the period inspired such novelties in everyday life as the widespread use of buttons and button-holes, and knitting of custom-made undergarments to better cover and insulate the body. Chimneys were invented to replace open fires in the centre of communal halls, so allowing houses with multiple rooms, separation of masters from servants. [35]

The Little Ice Age, by anthropologist Brian Fagan of the University of California at Santa Barbara, tells of the plight of European peasants during the 1300 to 1850 chill: famines, hypothermia, bread riots and the rise of despotic leaders brutalizing an increasingly dispirited peasantry. In the late 17th century, agriculture had dropped off dramatically: "Alpine villagers lived on bread made from ground nutshells mixed with barley and oat flour." [36] Historian Wolfgang Behringer has linked intensive witch-hunting episodes in Europe to agricultural failures during the Little Ice Age. [37]

The Frigid Golden Age, by environmental historian Dagomar Degroot of Georgetown University, by contrast, reveals that some societies thrived while others faltered during the Little Ice Age. In particular, the Little Ice Age transformed environments around the Dutch Republic — the precursor to the present-day Netherlands — so that they were easier to exploit in commerce and conflict. The Dutch were resilient, even adaptive, in the face of weather that devastated neighboring countries. Merchants exploited harvest failures, military commanders took advantage of shifting wind patterns, and inventors developed technologies that helped them profit from the cold. The 17th-century "Golden Age" of the Republic therefore owed much to the flexibility of the Dutch in coping with a changing climate. [38]

Cultural responses Edit

Historians have argued that cultural responses to the consequences of the Little Ice Age in Europe consisted of violent scapegoating. [39] [40] [41] [37] [42] The prolonged cold, dry periods brought drought upon many European communities, resulting in poor crop growth, poor livestock survival, and increased activity of pathogens and disease vectors. [43] Disease tends to intensify under the same conditions that unemployment and economic difficulties arise: prolonged, cold, dry seasons. Both of these outcomes – disease and unemployment – enhance each other, generating a lethal positive feedback loop. [43] Although these communities had some contingency plans, such as better crop mixes, emergency grain stocks, and international food trade, these did not always prove effective. [39] Communities often lashed out via violent crimes, including robbery and murder sexual offense accusations increased as well, such as adultery, bestiality, and rape. [40] Europeans sought explanations for the famine, disease, and social unrest that they were experiencing, and blamed the innocent. Evidence from several studies indicate that increases in violent actions against marginalized groups that were held responsible for the Little Ice Age overlap with years of particularly cold, dry weather. [41] [37] [39]

One example of the violent scapegoating occurring during the Little Ice Age was the resurgence of witchcraft trials, as argued by Oster (2004) and Behringer (1999). Oster and Behringer argue that this resurgence was brought upon by the climatic decline. Prior to the Little Ice Age, "witchcraft" was considered an insignificant crime and victims were rarely accused. [37] But beginning in the 1380s, just as the Little Ice Age began, European populations began to link magic and weather-making. [37] The first systematic witch hunts began in the 1430s, and by the 1480s it was widely believed that witches should be held accountable for poor weather. [37] Witches were blamed for direct and indirect consequences of the Little Ice Age: livestock epidemics, cows that gave too little milk, late frosts, and unknown diseases. [40] In general, as the temperature dropped, the number of witchcraft trials rose, and trials decreased when temperature increased. [39] [37] The peaks of witchcraft persecutions overlap with hunger crises that occurred in 1570 and 1580, the latter lasting a decade. [37] These trials primarily targeted poor women, many of whom were widows. Not everybody agreed that witches should be persecuted for weather-making, but such arguments primarily focused not upon whether witches existed, but upon whether witches had the capability to control the weather. [37] [39] The Catholic Church in the Early Middle Ages argued that witches could not control the weather because they were mortals, not God, but by the mid-13th-century most populations agreed with the idea that witches could control natural forces. [39]

Historians have argued that Jewish populations were also blamed for climatic deterioration during the Little Ice Age. [40] [42] Christianity was the official religion of Western Europe, and within these populations there was a great degree of anti-Semitism. [40] There was no direct link made between Jews and weather conditions, they were only blamed for indirect consequences such as disease. [40] For example, outbreaks of the plague were often blamed on Jews in Western European cities during the 1300s Jewish populations were murdered in an attempt to stop the spread of the plague. [40] Rumors were spread that either Jews were poisoning wells themselves, or conspiring against Christians by telling those with leprosy to poison the wells. [40] As a response to such violent scapegoating, Jewish communities sometimes converted to Christianity or migrated to the Ottoman Empire, Italy, or to territories of the Holy Roman Empire. [40]

Some populations blamed the cold periods and the resulting famine and disease during the Little Ice Age on general divine displeasure. [41] Particular groups, however, took the brunt of the burden in attempts to cure it. [41] For example, in Germany, regulations were imposed upon activities such as gambling and drinking, which disproportionately affected the lower class, and women were forbidden from showing their knees. [41] Other regulations affected the wider population, such as prohibiting dancing and sexual activities, as well as moderating food and drink intake. [41]

In Ireland, Catholics blamed the Reformation for the bad weather. The Annals of Loch Cé, in its entry for the year 1588, describes a midsummer snowstorm: "a wild apple was not larger than each stone of it," blaming it on the presence of a "wicked, heretical, bishop in Oilfinn" that is, the Protestant Bishop of Elphin, John Lynch. [44] [45]

Depictions of winter in European painting Edit

William James Burroughs analyses the depiction of winter in paintings, as does Hans Neuberger. [46] Burroughs asserts that it occurred almost entirely from 1565 to 1665 and was associated with the climatic decline from 1550 onwards. Burroughs claims that there had been almost no depictions of winter in art, and he "hypothesizes that the unusually harsh winter of 1565 inspired great artists to depict highly original images and that the decline in such paintings was a combination of the 'theme' having been fully explored and mild winters interrupting the flow of painting". [47] Wintry scenes, which entail technical difficulties in painting, have been regularly and well handled since the early 15th century by artists in illuminated manuscript cycles showing the Labours of the Months, typically placed on the calendar pages of books of hours. January and February are typically shown as snowy, as in February in the famous cycle in the Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, painted 1412–1416 and illustrated below. Since landscape painting had not yet developed as an independent genre in art, the absence of other winter scenes is not remarkable. On the other hand, snowy winter landscapes and stormy seascapes in particular became artistic genres in the Dutch Republic during the coldest and stormiest decades of the Little Ice Age. At the time when the Little Ice Age was at its height, Dutch observations and reconstructions of similar weather in the past caused artists to consciously paint local manifestations of a cooler, stormier climate. This was a break from European conventions as Dutch paintings and realistic landscapes depicted scenes from everyday life, which most modern scholars believe that were full of symbolic messages and metaphors that would have been clear to contemporary customers. [48]

The famous winter landscape paintings by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, such as The Hunters in the Snow, are all thought to have been painted in 1565. His son Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564–1638) also painted many snowy landscapes, but according to Burroughs, he "slavishly copied his father's designs. The derivative nature of so much of this work makes it difficult to draw any definite conclusions about the influence of the winters between 1570 and 1600. ". [47] [49]

Burroughs says that snowy subjects return to Dutch Golden Age painting with works by Hendrick Avercamp from 1609 onwards. There is then a hiatus between 1627 and 1640, before the main period of such subjects from the 1640s to the 1660s, which relates well with climate records for the later period. The subjects are less popular after about 1660, but that does not match any recorded reduction in severity of winters and may reflect only changes in taste or fashion. In the later period between the 1780s and 1810s, snowy subjects again became popular. [47]

Neuberger analysed 12,000 paintings, held in American and European museums and dated between 1400 and 1967, for cloudiness and darkness. [46] His 1970 publication shows an increase in such depictions that corresponds to the Little Ice Age, [46] peaking between 1600 and 1649. [50]

Paintings and contemporary records in Scotland demonstrate that curling and ice skating were popular outdoor winter sports, with curling dating back to the 16th century and becoming widely popular in the mid-19th century. [51] As an example, an outdoor curling pond constructed in Gourock in the 1860s remained in use for almost a century, but increasing use of indoor facilities, problems of vandalism, and milder winters led to the pond being abandoned in 1963. [52]

General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century Edit

The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century in Europe was a period of inclement weather, crop failure, economic hardship, extreme inter-group violence, and high mortality causally linked to the Little Ice Age. Episodes of social instability track the cooling with a time lapse of up to 15 years, and many developed into armed conflicts, such as the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648). [53] It started as a war of succession to the Bohemian throne. Animosity between Protestants and Catholics in the Holy Roman Empire (Germany today) added fuel to the fire. Soon, it escalated to a huge conflict involving all major European powers that devastated much of Germany. By the war's end, some regions of the Holy Roman Empire saw their population drop by as much as 70%. [54] But as global temperatures started to rise, the ecological stress faced by Europeans also began to fade. Mortality rates dropped and the level of violence fell, paving the way for a period known as Pax Britannica, which witnessed the emergence of a variety of innovations in technology (which enabled industrialization), medicine (which improved hygiene), and social welfare (such as the world's first welfare programs in Germany), making life even more comfortable. [55]

North America Edit

Early European explorers and settlers of North America reported exceptionally severe winters. For example, according to Lamb, Samuel Champlain reported bearing ice along the shores of Lake Superior in June 1608. Both Europeans and indigenous peoples suffered excess mortality in Maine during the winter of 1607–1608, and extreme frost was reported in the Jamestown, Virginia, settlement at the same time. [29] Native Americans formed leagues in response to food shortages. [28] The journal of Pierre de Troyes, Chevalier de Troyes, who led an expedition to James Bay in 1686, recorded that the bay was still littered with so much floating ice that he could hide behind it in his canoe on 1 July. [56] In the winter of 1780, New York Harbor froze, allowing people to walk from Manhattan Island to Staten Island.

The extent of mountain glaciers had been mapped by the late 19th century. In the north and the south temperate zones, Equilibrium Line Altitude (the boundaries separating zones of net accumulation from those of net ablation) were about 100 metres (330 ft) lower than they were in 1975. [57] In Glacier National Park, the last episode of glacier advance came in the late 18th and the early 19th centuries. [58] In 1879, famed naturalist John Muir found that Glacier Bay ice had retreated 48 miles. [59] In Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, large temperature excursions were possibly related to changes in the strength of North Atlantic thermohaline circulation. [60]

Because the Little Ice Age took place during the European colonization of the Americas, it threw off a lot of the early colonizers. The colonizers had expected the climate of North America to be similar to the climate of Europe at similar latitudes, however the climate of North America had hotter summers and colder winters than were expected by the Europeans. This was an effect aggravated by the Little Ice Age. This unpreparedness led to the collapse of many early European settlements in North America.

When colonizers settled at Jamestown, in modern day Virginia, historians agree it was one of the coldest time periods in the last 1000 years. Droughts were also a huge problem in North America during the Little Ice Age, settlers arriving in Roanoke were in the largest drought of the past 800 years. Tree ring studies done by the University of Arkansas discovered that many colonists arrived at the beginning of a seven year drought. These times of drought also decreased Native American populations and led to conflict due to food scarcity. English colonists at Roanoke forced Native Americans of Ossomocomuck to share their depleted supplies with them. This led to warfare between the two groups and Native American cities were destroyed. That cycle would repeat itself many times at Jamestown. The combination of fighting and cold weather led to the spread of diseases as well. The colder weather brought on by the Little Ice Age helped the Malaria parasites brought by Europeans in mosquitoes develop faster. This in turn led to many deaths among Native American populations. [61]

Cold winters made worse by the Little Ice Age were also an issue in North America for colonists. Anecdotal evidence shows that people who lived in North America suffered during this time. John Smith, who established Jamestown, Virginia, wrote of a winter so cold, not even the dogs could bear it. Another colonist, Francis Perkins, wrote in the Winter of 1607 that it got so cold that the river at his fort froze due to extremely cold weather. In 1642, Thomas Gorges wrote that between 1637 and 1645, colonists in Maine in Massachusetts had horrendous weather conditions. June of 1637 was so hot that European newcomers were dying in the heat and travelers had to travel at night to stay cool enough. He also wrote that the winter of 1641-1642 was “piercingly Intolerable” and that no Englishman nor Native American had ever seen anything like it. Stating that the Massachusetts bay had frozen as far as one could see and that horse carriages now roamed where ships used to be. The summers of 1638 and 1639 were very short, cold, and wet according to Gorges and this led to compounding food scarcity for a few years. To make matters worse, creatures like caterpillars and pigeons were feeding on crops and devastating harvests. Every year that Gorges writes about, he notes unusual weather patterns that include high precipitation, drought, and extreme cold or extreme heat. These all are byproducts of the Little Ice Age. [62]

While the Little Ice Age dropped global temperatures by an estimated 0.1 degrees celsius, it increased global weirding all over North America and the world. Summers got hotter and winters got colder. Floods ensued and so did droughts. The Little Ice age didn’t just cool places off a bit, it threw the climate into a weird unpredictable beast that made living in North America significantly harder for all of its inhabitants.

While nobody knows exactly what caused the Little Ice Age, one theory from Warren Ruddimen states that approximately 50% of the Little Ice Age originated in North America. This theory states that when European diseases wiped out 95 percent of Native Americans, the resulting effects led to global cooling. Approximately 55 million Native Americans died due to those diseases and the theory is that as a result of those deaths, 56 million hectares of land was abandoned and reforested. Ruddimen believes that this caused more oxygen to enter the air and then created a global cooling effect. [63]

Many of the people living in North America had their own theories as to why the weather was so poor. Colonist Ferdinando Gorges blamed the cold weather on cold ocean winds. Humphrey Gilbert tried to explain the extremely cold and foggy weather of Newfoundland by saying the earth drew cold vapors from the ocean and drew them west. Dozens of others had their own theories as to why North America was so much colder than Europe. But because of their observations and hypotheses, we know a lot about the Little Ice Age’s effect on North America. [64]

Mesoamerica Edit

An analysis of several climate proxies undertaken in Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula, linked by its authors to Maya and Aztec chronicles relating periods of cold and drought, supports the existence of the Little Ice Age in the region. [65]

Another study conducted in several sites in Mesoamerica such as Los Tuxtlas and Lake Pompal in Veracruz, Mexico demonstrate a decrease in human activity in the area during the Little Ice Age. This was proven by studying charcoal fragments and the amount of maize pollen taken from sedimentary samples using a nonrotatory piston corer. The samples also showed volcanic activity which caused forest regeneration between 650 and 800 A.D. The instances of volcanic activity near Lake Pompal indicate varying temperatures, not a continuous coldness, during the Little Ice Age in Mesoamerica. [66]

Atlantic Ocean Edit

In the North Atlantic, sediments accumulated since the end of the last ice age, nearly 12,000 years ago, show regular increases in the amount of coarse sediment grains deposited from icebergs melting in the now open ocean, indicating a series of 1–2 °C (2–4 °F) cooling events recurring every 1,500 years or so. [67] The most recent of these cooling events was the Little Ice Age. These same cooling events are detected in sediments accumulating off Africa, but the cooling events appear to be larger, ranging between 3–8 °C (6–14 °F). [68]

Asia Edit

Although the original designation of a Little Ice Age referred to reduced temperature of Europe and North America, there is some evidence of extended periods of cooling outside this region, but it is not clear whether they are related or independent events. Mann states: [4]

While there is evidence that many other regions outside Europe exhibited periods of cooler conditions, expanded glaciation, and significantly altered climate conditions, the timing and nature of these variations are highly variable from region to region, and the notion of the Little Ice Age as a globally synchronous cold period has all but been dismissed.

In China, warm-weather crops such as oranges were abandoned in Jiangxi Province, where they had been grown for centuries. [69] Also, the two periods of most frequent typhoon strikes in Guangdong coincide with two of the coldest and driest periods in northern and central China (1660–1680, 1850–1880). [70] Scholars have argued that the fall of the Ming dynasty may have been partially caused by the droughts and famines caused by the Little Ice Age. [71]

There are debates on the start date and time periods of Little Ice Age's effects. Most scholars agree on categorizing the Little Ice Age period into 3 distinct cold periods. 1458-1552, 1600-1720, and 1840-1880. [72] According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Eastern Monsoon area of China was the earliest to experience the effects of Little Ice Age from 1560-1709. In the Western region of China surrounding the Tibetan Plateau, the effects of Little Ice Age lagged behind the Eastern region, with significant cold periods between 1620 and 1749. [73]

The temperature changes was unprecedented for the farming communities in China. According to Dr. Coching Chu's 1972 study, the Little Ice Age during the end of Ming Dynasty and start of Qing Dynasty (1650-1700) was one of the coldest periods in recorded Chinese history. [74] Many major droughts during summer months were recorded while significant freezing events occurred in Winter months, hurting the food supply significantly during Ming Dynasty.

This period of Little Ice Age would correspond to major historical events of the period. The Jurchen people resided in Northern China and formed a tributary state to the Ming government and Wanli Emperor. From 1573 to 1620, the Manchurian land experienced famine experienced extreme snowfall, which depleted agriculture production and decimated the livestock population. Scholars argued that this was caused by the temperature drops during Little Ice Age. Despite the lack of food production, Wanli Emperor ordered the Jurchens to pay the same amount of tribute each year. This led to anger and sowed seeds to the rebellion against Ming China. In 1616, Jurchens established the Later Jin dynasty. Led by Hong Taiji and Nurhaci, the Later Jin dynasty moved South and achieved decisive victories in battles against the Ming military such as the Battle of Fushun in 1618. [75]

Following the earlier defeats and the death of Wanli Emperor, Chongzhen Emperor took the reign of China and continued the war effort. From 1632 to 1641, the Little Ice Age climate began to cause drastic climate changes in Ming territories. For example, rainfall in Huabei region dropped by 11%

47% compared to historical average. Meanwhile, the Shaanbei region along the Yellow River experienced six major floods that ruined cities such as Yan’an. The climate factored heavily in weakening the Imperial government’s control over China and accelerated the fall of Ming dynasty. In 1644, Li Zicheng led Later Jin forces into Beijing, overthrowing the Ming Dynasty, and establishing the Qing Dynasty. [76]

During the early years of the Qing Dynasty, the little ice age continued to have a significant impact on Chinese society. During the rule of Kangxi Emperor (1661-1722), majority of the Qing territories were still much colder than the historical average. However, Kangxi Emperor pushed reforms and managed to increase socioeconomic recovery from the natural disasters, partially benefiting from the peacefulness of the early Qing dynasty. This essentially marked the end of the Little Ice Age in China and led to a more affluent era of Chinese monarchial history known as the High Qing era. [77]

In the Himalayas, the general assumption is that the cooling events in the Himalayas were synchronous with cooling events in Europe during the Little Ice Age based on the characteristics of moraines. However, applications of Quaternary dating methods such as surface exposure dating demonstrated that glacial maxima occurred between 1300 and 1600 CE, which was slightly earlier than the recorded coldest period in Northern Hemisphere. Many large Himalayan glacial debris remained close to their limits from the Little Ice Age to present. The Himalayas also experienced increase in snowfall at higher altitudes, resulting in a southward shift in the Indian summer monsoon and an increase in precipitation. Overall, the increase in winter precipitation may have caused some glacial movements. [78]

In Pakistan, the Balochistan province became colder and the native Baloch people started mass migration and settled along the Indus River in Sindh and Punjab provinces. [79]

Africa Edit

The influence of the Little Ice Age on African climate has been clearly demonstrated throughout the 14th-19th century. [80] Despite variances throughout the continent, a general trend of declining temperatures led to an average cooling of 1 °C in the continent. [81]

In Ethiopia and North Africa, permanent snow was reported on mountain peaks at levels where it does not occur today. [69] Timbuktu, an important city on the trans-Saharan caravan route, was flooded at least 13 times by the Niger River there are no records of similar flooding before or since. [69]

Several paleoclimatic studies of Southern Africa have suggested significant changes in relative changes in climate and environmental conditions. In Southern Africa, sediment cores retrieved from Lake Malawi show colder conditions between 1570 and 1820, suggesting the Lake Malawi records "further support, and extend, the global expanse of the Little Ice Age." [82] A novel 3,000-year temperature reconstruction method, based on the rate of stalagmite growth in a cold cave in South Africa, further suggests a cold period from 1500 to 1800 "characterizing the South African Little Ice age." [83] This δ18O stalagmite record temperature reconstruction over a 350-year period (1690-1740) suggests that South Africa may have been the coldest region in Africa, cooling as much as 1.4 °C in the Summer. [84] Further, solar magnetic and Niño-Southern Oscillation cycle may have been key drivers of climate variability in the subtropical region. Periglacial features in the eastern Lesotho Highlands might have been reactivated by the Little Ice Age. [85] Another archaeological reconstruction of South Africa reveals the rise of the Great Zimbabwe people society due to ecological advantages due to increased rainfall over other competitor societies’ such as the Mupungubwe people. [86]

Aside from temperature variability, data from equatorial East Africa suggests impacts to the hydrologic cycle in the late 1700s. Historical data reconstructions from ten major African lakes indicate an episode of “drought and desiccation” occurred throughout East Africa. [87] This period showed drastic reductions in lake depth as these were transformed into desiccated puddles. It is very likely that locals could traverse lake Chad, among others, and bouts of “intense droughts were ubiquitous”. These predictors indicate local societies were probably launched into long migrations and warfare with neighboring tribes as agriculture was rendered virtually useless by the arid soil conditions.

Antarctica Edit

Kreutz et al. (1997) compared results from studies of West Antarctic ice cores with the Greenland Ice Sheet Project Two GISP2 and suggested a synchronous global cooling. [88] An ocean sediment core from the eastern Bransfield Basin in the Antarctic Peninsula shows centennial events that the authors link to the Little Ice Age and Medieval Warm Period. [89] The authors note "other unexplained climatic events comparable in duration and amplitude to the LIA and MWP events also appear."

The Siple Dome (SD) had a climate event with an onset time that is coincident with that of the Little Ice Age in the North Atlantic based on a correlation with the GISP2 record. The event is the most dramatic climate event in the SD Holocene glaciochemical record. [90] The Siple Dome ice core also contained its highest rate of melt layers (up to 8%) between 1550 and 1700, most likely because of warm summers. [91] Law Dome ice cores show lower levels of CO
2 mixing ratios from 1550 to 1800, which Etheridge and Steele conjecture are "probably as a result of colder global climate." [92]

Sediment cores in Bransfield Basin, Antarctic Peninsula, have neoglacial indicators by diatom and sea-ice taxa variations during the Little Ice Age. [93] Stable isotope records from the Mount Erebus Saddle ice core site suggests that the Ross Sea region experienced 1.6 ± 1.4 °C cooler average temperatures during the Little Ice Age, compared to the last 150 years. [94]

Australia and New Zealand Edit

Due to its location in the Southern Hemisphere, Australia did not experience a regional cooling as in Europe or North America. Instead, the Australian Little Ice Age was characterized by humid, rainy climates followed by drying and aridification in the nineteenth century. [95]

As studied by Tibby et al. (2018), lake records from Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland suggest that conditions in the east and south-east of Australia were wet and unusually cool from the sixteenth to early nineteenth centuries. This corresponds with the “peak” of the global Little Ice Age from 1594-1722. For example, the Swallow Lagoon rainfall record indicates that from circa 1500-1850, there was significant and consistent rainfall, sometimes exceeding 300 millimeters. [95] These rainfalls significantly reduced after circa 1890. Similarly, the hydrological records of Lake Surprise’s salinity levels reveal high humidity levels from circa 1440-1880, while an increase in salinity between 1860-1880 point to a negative change to the once-humid climate. [96] The mid-nineteenth century marked a notable change to east Australia’s rainfall and humidity patterns.

As Tibby et al. (2018) note, in eastern Australia, these paleoclimatic changes of the Little Ice Age in the late 1800s coincided with the agricultural changes resulting from European colonization. Following the 1788 establishment of British colonies on the Australian continent—primarily concentrated in eastern regions and cities like Sydney, and later Melbourne and Brisbane—the British introduced new agricultural practices such as pastoralism. [95] Practices such as these required widespread deforestation and vegetation clearance. Pastoralism and land clearing is captured in works of art such as prominent landscape artist John Glover’s 1833 painting, Patterdale Landscape with Cattle.

Over the next century, such deforestation led to biodiversity loss, wind and water-based soil erosion, and soil salinity. [97] Furthermore, as argued by Gordan et al. (2003), such land and vegetation clearance in Australia resulted in a 10% reduction in water vapor transport to the atmosphere. This occurred in western Australia as well, in which nineteenth century land-clearing resulted in reduced rainfall over the region. [98] By 1850-1890, these human agricultural practices, concentrated in the eastern region of Australia, most likely amplified the drying and aridification that marked the end of the Little Ice Age.

In the north, evidence suggests fairly dry conditions, but coral cores from the Great Barrier Reef show similar rainfall as today but with less variability. A study that analyzed isotopes in Great Barrier Reef corals suggested that increased water vapor transport from southern tropical oceans to the poles contributed to the Little Ice Age. [99] Borehole reconstructions from Australia suggest that over the last 500 years, the 17th century was the coldest on the continent. [100] The borehole temperature reconstruction method further indicates that the warming of Australia over the past five centuries is only around half that of the warming experienced by the Northern Hemisphere, further proving that Australia did not reach the same depths of cooling as the continents to the north.

On the west coast of the Southern Alps of New Zealand, the Franz Josef glacier advanced rapidly during the Little Ice Age and reached its maximum extent in the early 18th century, in one of the few cases of a glacier thrusting into a rainforest. [101] Evidence suggests, corroborated by tree ring proxy data, that the glacier contributed to a -0.56 °C temperature anomaly over the course of the Little Ice Age in New Zealand. [102] Based on dating of a yellow-green lichen of the Rhizocarpon subgenus, the Mueller Glacier, on the eastern flank of the Southern Alps within Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, is considered to have been at its maximum extent between 1725-1730. [103]

Pacific Islands Edit

Sea-level data for the Pacific Islands suggest that sea level in the region fell, possibly in two stages, between 1270 and 1475. This was associated with a 1.5 °C fall in temperature (determined from oxygen-isotope analysis) and an observed increase in El Niño frequency. [104] Tropical Pacific coral records indicate the most frequent, intense El Niño-Southern Oscillation activity in the mid-seventeenth century. [105] Foraminiferald 18 O records indicate that the Indo-Pacific Warm Pool was warm and saline between 1000 and 1400 CE, with temperatures approximating current conditions, but cooled from 1400 CE onwards, reaching its lowest temperatures in 1700, consistent with the transition from mid-Holocene warming to the Little Ice Age. [106] The nearby Southwestern Pacific, however, experienced warmer than average conditions over the course of the Little Ice Age, thought to be due to increased trade winds causing increased evaporation and higher salinity in the region, and that the dramatic temperature differences between the higher latitudes and the equator resulted in drier conditions in the subtropics. [107] Independent multiproxy analyses of Raraku Lake(sedimentology, mineralology, organic and inorganic geochemistry, etc) indicate that Easter Island was subject to two phases of arid climate leading to drought, with the first occurring between 500 and 1200 CE, and second occurring during the Little Ice Age, from 1570 to 1720. [108] In between these two arid phases, the island enjoyed a humid period, extending from 1200 CE to 1570, coinciding with the maximum development of the Rapanui civilization. [109]

South America Edit

Tree-ring data from Patagonia show cold episodes between 1270 and 1380 and from 1520 to 1670, contemporary with the events in the Northern Hemisphere. [110] [111] Eight sediment cores taken from Puyehue Lake have been interpreted as showing a humid period from 1470 to 1700, which the authors describe as a regional marker of the onset of the Little Ice Age. [112] A 2009 paper details cooler and wetter conditions in southeastern South America between 1550 and 1800, citing evidence obtained via several proxies and models. [113] 18 O records from three Andean ice cores show a cool period from 1600 to 1800. [114]

Although only anecdotal evidence, in 1675 the Spanish Antonio de Vea expedition entered San Rafael Lagoon through Río Témpanos (Spanish for "Ice Floe River") without mentioning any ice floe but stating that the San Rafael Glacier did not reach far into the lagoon. In 1766, another expedition noticed that the glacier reached the lagoon and calved into large icebergs. Hans Steffen visited the area in 1898, noticing that the glacier penetrated far into the lagoon. Such historical records indicate a general cooling in the area between 1675 and 1898: "The recognition of the LIA in northern Patagonia, through the use of documentary sources, provides important, independent evidence for the occurrence of this phenomenon in the region." [115] As of 2001, the border of the glacier had significantly retreated as compared to the borders of 1675. [115]

Scientists have tentatively identified seven possible causes of the Little Ice Age: orbital cycles decreased solar activity increased volcanic activity altered ocean current flows [116] fluctuations in the human population in different parts of the world causing reforestation, or deforestation and the inherent variability of global climate.

Orbital cycles Edit

Orbital forcing from cycles in the earth's orbit around the sun has, for the past 2,000 years, caused a long-term northern hemisphere cooling trend that continued through the Middle Ages and the Little Ice Age. The rate of Arctic cooling is roughly 0.02 °C per century. [117] This trend could be extrapolated to continue into the future, possibly leading to a full ice age, but the twentieth-century instrumental temperature record shows a sudden reversal of this trend, with a rise in global temperatures attributed to greenhouse gas emissions. [117]

Solar activity Edit

Solar activity accounts for any sun disturbances like sunspots, solar flares, or prominences, and scientists can track these solar activities in the past by analyzing both the carbon 14 or Beryllium 10 isotopes in items like tree rings. These solar activities while not the most common or noticeable causes for the little ice age do show considerable evidence that they played a part in the formation of the little ice age and the increase in temperature after the period. During the time of the little ice age which ranged from 1450 to 1850, there were very low recorded levels of solar activity in the Spörer, Maunder, and Dalton minima.

The Spörer minimum was between 1450-1550 AD and was when the little ice age started. In a study by Dmitri Mauquoy and others, they found that at the beginning of Spörer, the percentage of change of carbon-14 skyrocketed to about 10%. This percentage stayed pretty common along with the entire duration of the Spörer minimum. At around 1600 this percentage dropped rapidly before the Maunder(1645-1715) where it rises again to a little under 10% change. To put this into perspective during standard periods the percentage change in carbon-14 idles between -5 to 5 percent so this is a considerable change. At the end of the little ice age which is also the Dalton minimum(1790-1830), the percentage change is normal around -1%. These changes in the Carbon-14 have a strong relationship with the temperature because during these three periods as an increase in the carbon-14 does correlate with cold temperatures during the little ice age. [118]

In a study by Judith Lean, where she talked about the sun and climate relationships and the cause and effect relationship that helped form the little ice age. In her research, she found that during a certain time period there a .13% solar irradiance increased the temperature of the earth by .3 degree Celsius. This was around 1650-1790 and this information can help you formulate another idea of what happened during the little ice age. When they calculated correlation coefficients of the global temperature response to solar forcing over three different periods it comes out to an average coefficient of .79. This shows a strong relationship between the two components and helps the point that the little ice age was considerably cold with very low solar activity. Lean and your team also formulated an equation where Change in T is equal to -168.802+Sx0.123426. This equals turns out to a .16 increase in temperature for every .1% increase in solar irradiance. [119]

To summarize, the entire length of the little ice age had a high percentage change in carbon-14 and low social irradiance. Both of these show a strong relationship to the cold temperatures during the time and while the changes of solar activity actually have on the temperature of the earth compared to things like greenhouse gases is very minimal. Solar activity is still important to the whole picture of climate change and does affect the earth even if it’s just less than one Celsius over a few hundred years.

Volcanic activity Edit

In a 2012 paper, Miller et al. link the Little Ice Age to an "unusual 50-year-long episode with four large sulfur-rich explosive eruptions, each with global sulfate loading >60 Tg" and notes that "large changes in solar irradiance are not required." [7]

Throughout the Little Ice Age, the world experienced heightened volcanic activity. [120] When a volcano erupts, its ash reaches high into the atmosphere and can spread to cover the whole earth. The ash cloud blocks out some of the incoming solar radiation, leading to worldwide cooling that can last up to two years after an eruption. Also emitted by eruptions is sulfur, in the form of sulfur dioxide gas. When it reaches the stratosphere, it turns into sulfuric acid particles, which reflect the sun's rays, further reducing the amount of radiation reaching Earth's surface.

A recent study found that an especially massive tropical volcanic eruption in 1257, possibly of the now-extinct Mount Samalas near Mount Rinjani, both in Lombok, Indonesia, followed by three smaller eruptions in 1268, 1275, and 1284 did not allow the climate to recover. This may have caused the initial cooling, and the 1452–53 eruption of Kuwae in Vanuatu triggered a second pulse of cooling. [7] The cold summers can be maintained by sea-ice/ocean feedbacks long after volcanic aerosols are removed.

Other volcanoes that erupted during the era and may have contributed to the cooling include Billy Mitchell (ca. 1580), Huaynaputina (1600), Mount Parker (1641), Long Island (Papua New Guinea) (ca. 1660), and Laki (1783). [24] The 1815 eruption of Tambora, also in Indonesia, blanketed the atmosphere with ash the following year, 1816, came to be known as the Year Without a Summer, [121] when frost and snow were reported in June and July in both New England and Northern Europe.

Ocean circulation Edit

Another possibility is that there was a slowing of thermohaline circulation. [57] [116] [122] [123] The circulation could have been interrupted by the introduction of a large amount of fresh water into the North Atlantic, possibly caused by a period of warming before the Little Ice Age known as the Medieval Warm Period. [36] [124] [125] There is some concern that a shutdown of thermohaline circulation could happen again as a result of the present warming period. [126] [127]

Decreased human populations Edit

Some researchers have proposed that human influences on climate began earlier than is normally supposed (see Early anthropocene for more details) and that major population declines in Eurasia and the Americas reduced this impact, leading to a cooling trend.

The Black Death is estimated to have killed 30% to 60% of Europe's population. [128] In total, the plague may have reduced the world population from an estimated 475 million to 350–375 million in the 14th century. [129] It took 200 years for the world population to recover to its previous level. [130] William Ruddiman proposed that these large population reductions in Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East caused a decrease in agricultural activity. Ruddiman suggests reforestation took place, allowing more carbon dioxide uptake from the atmosphere, which may have been a factor in the cooling noted during the Little Ice Age. Ruddiman further hypothesized that a reduced population in the Americas after European contact in the 16th century could have had a similar effect. [131] [132] Other researchers supported depopulation in the Americas as a factor, asserting that humans had cleared considerable amounts of forest to support agriculture in the Americas before the arrival of Europeans brought on a population collapse. [133] [134] Richard Nevle, Robert Dull and colleagues further suggested that not only anthropogenic forest clearance played a role in reducing the amount of carbon sequestered in Neotropical forests, but that human-set fires played a central role in reducing biomass in Amazonian and Central American forests before the arrival of Europeans and the concomitant spread of diseases during the Columbian exchange. [135] [136] [137] Dull and Nevle calculated that reforestation in the tropical biomes of the Americas alone from 1500 to 1650 accounted for net carbon sequestration of 2-5 Pg. [136] Brierley conjectured that European arrival in the Americas caused mass deaths from epidemic disease, which caused much abandonment of farmland, which caused much return of forest, which sequestered greater levels of carbon dioxide. [12] A study of sediment cores and soil samples further suggests that carbon dioxide uptake via reforestation in the Americas could have contributed to the Little Ice Age. [138] The depopulation is linked to a drop in carbon dioxide levels observed at Law Dome, Antarctica. [133] A 2011 study by the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology asserts that the Mongol invasions and conquests, which lasted almost two centuries, contributed to global cooling by depopulating vast regions and allowing for the return of carbon absorbing forest over cultivated land. [139] [140]

Population increases at mid- to high-latitudes Edit

During the Little Ice Age period, it is suggested that increased deforestation had a significant enough effect on albedo (reflectiveness of the Earth) to decrease regional and global temperatures. Changes in albedo were caused by widespread deforestation at high latitudes. In turn this exposed more snow cover to and increased reflectiveness of the Earth's surface as land was cleared for agricultural use. This theory implies that over the course of the Little Ice Age land was cleared to an extent that warranted deforestation as a cause for climate change. [141]

It has been proposed that Land Use Intensification theory could explain this phenomenon. This theory was originally proposed by Ester Boserup and suggests that agriculture is only advanced as the population demands it. [142] Furthermore, there is evidence of rapid population and agricultural expansion that could warrant some of the changes observed in the climate during this period.

This theory is still under speculation for multiple reasons. Primarily, the difficulty of recreating climate simulations outside of a narrow set of land in these regions. This has led to an inability to rely on data to explain sweeping changes, or account for the wide variety of other sources of climate change globally. As an extension of the first reason climate models including this time period have shown increases and decreases in temperature globally. [143] That is, climate models have not shown deforestation as a singular cause for climate change, nor as a reliable cause for global temperature decrease.

Inherent variability of climate Edit

Spontaneous fluctuations in global climate might explain past variability. It is very difficult to know what the true level of variability from internal causes might be given the existence of other forces, as noted above, whose magnitude may not be known. One approach to evaluating internal variability is to use long integrations of coupled ocean-atmosphere global climate models. They have the advantage that the external forcing is known to be zero, but the disadvantage is that they may not fully reflect reality. The variations may result from chaos-driven changes in the oceans, the atmosphere, or interactions between the two. [144] Two studies have concluded that the demonstrated inherent variability is not great enough to account for the Little Ice Age. [144] [145] The severe winters of 1770 to 1772 in Europe, however, have been attributed to an anomaly in the North Atlantic oscillation. [146]

Lucky Break?

What was that again about being in an ice age? If we were right on schedule, we’d be near the end of this interglacial and headed into another glacial period. That’s not happening, of course. Instead, we seem to be heading into a climate like that of the Eocene Epoch , when palm trees grew in Alaska and crocodiles swam in the Arctic.

But has global warming saved us from an opposite but equally disastrous fate? If we didn’t have global warming, would we be entering an ice age that’s potentially just as dangerous? Well, maybe — but not nearly so suddenly. “The advance is so slow that the next ten generations would hardly notice it,” says Thomas.

On the other hand, if we hadn’t been in an ice age when humans started cranking up the heat, things would already be much, much worse. So we do have an ice age to thank for that.

What Were People Doing During the Ice Age?

Archaeologists have found thousands of campsites and small settlements where Noah’s descendants lived after the Babel dispersion during the Ice Age. These early pioneers were daring explorers and settlers, quickly reaching as far as Australia and the Americas. Everywhere they went, they found unfamiliar plants, weather cycles, soils, and wild animals. Cast off from the pampered life of the city, the tiny bands had to invent whole new ways of doing things, including living off the land while caring for their children.

Bible Fact: The Whole Earth Is Settled

The Bible does not reveal much about the biology and geology of the Ice Age, but it does tell us about the languages, culture, and migrations of the people of that time. They began as a united people with one language, capable of accomplishing great feats ( Genesis 11:6 ). But God recognized the danger of unity without obedience to His word, so He scattered the people from Babel.

Twice the Bible repeats that “the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth” ( Genesis 11:8–9 ). Notice that this was the Lord’s doing. This supernatural event is essential for a proper understanding of human history. Yet without God ’s written Word archaeologists would have no way of knowing this happened.

Archaeological Fact: Brief Appearance of Neanderthals, Woolly Mammoths, and “Stone Age” Villages

The fossil and archaeological record gives us a wealth of amazing detail about the creatures that Noah’s descendants met and the places where they lived.

Various species of the saber-tooth cat (such as Smilodon fatalis) began appearing as the Ice Age got underway, though not in the areas first settled by humans. The woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) did not appear until later, but as the cold increased and grasslands spread across northern Asia and North America, its numbers quickly filled the grassy plains. Humans soon followed in their steps.

Another interesting development during the Ice Age was the appearance of Neanderthal people, whose range was restricted to Europe and the Near East. Like all other humans, they were descendants of the people who scattered from Babel. Their remains do not appear until the middle of the Ice Age, and they disappeared as the glaciers reached their maximum and the cold, dry weather reached its worst.12

Their short, squat bodies were better suited for the cold than the taller, thinner bodies of their contemporaries, the Cro-Magnon people (other descendants of Babel people), who looked like us. The Neanderthals used heavy spears to hunt woodland animals, but these woods began disappearing at the height of the Ice Age, to be replaced by grasslands or barren tundra. The Cro-Magnon, in contrast, made finely crafted arrows and other weapons that enabled them to hunt more easily on the open plains. The vast number of the Cro-Magnon campsites and fossils indicate these men and women were more successful at adapting to the changes.

Sometime after the demise of Neanderthal people, the first “stone age” villages begin appearing all over the Old World. We find them by the thousands, in some instances spread over several acres, and apparently predating any “cities” we know of.

It is hard to imagine such extreme changes in weather, landscapes, and vegetation during the rapid Ice Age and the years that followed. Some lush places in the north were stricken by drought, while monsoons filled the Sahara Desert with lakes and grasslands, attracting rhinoceroses, crocodiles, and human settlers. For a time at the end of the Ice Age, the drenched Nile Valley was not even habitable (at least, no human artifacts or villages have been found from this time). The great cities of Memphis and Luxor did not arise until many years later.

The toolmaking technology that archaeologists find is not a record of millions of years of human advancement. These improvements could easily happen within decades after Babel.

What are the Major Ice Ages of the Earth's History?

The Earth has experienced at least five major ice ages in its 4.57 billion year history: the Huronian glaciation (2.4 to 2.1 billion years ago), the Sturtian/Marinoan glaciation (710 to 640 mya), the Andean-Saharan glaciation (460 to 430 mya), the Karoo Ice Age (350 to 260 mya) and the most recent Ice Age, which is currently ongoing (40 to 0 mya). The definition of an Ice Age is a long-term drop in global temperatures from the historical norm, accompanied by an extension of continental ice sheets. Each Ice Age is cyclical, generally on timescales of 44,000 and 110,000 years, during which glacial ice rhythmically extends and recedes.

The precise causes of historical Ice Ages are unknown, but likely emerged due to a variety of factors, including: positions of the continents, atmospheric composition (greenhouse gases), volcanic activity, the Earth's albedo (reflectivity), variations in the Earth's distance from the Sun (Milankovitch cycles), variations in solar output, and asteroid impacts. When the right variables are in place, an Ice Age begins, and once it gets started, positive feedback effects come into play. The strongest is simply that ice is more reflective than land or forest, so large areas covered in ice sheets reflect away the Sun's rays, causing further drops in temperature and increased glaciation.

Most of the time, the Earth is not in an Ice Age, and the average global temperature is about 22 °C (71 °F). Ice sheets are almost completely absent, found only at high altitudes (alpine glaciers). The poles are cold, but not covered in ice, and forests extend from pole to pole. Dinosaur fossils have been found at less that 10° latitude from the ancient South Pole. Only during about 15% of the Earth's history has there been an Ice Age.

The two most famous Ice Ages are probably the Sturtian/Marinoan glaciation and the most recent Ice Age. The Sturtian/Marinoan glaciation was so severe that evidence of continental glaciers have been found around the equator from this period. The average global temperature may have dropped lower than -30 °C (-22 °F), colder than present-day Antarctica. Some scientists even believe that the oceans froze from top to bottom during this time, resulting in a "Snowball Earth" scenario. Life would have survived in refugia such as deep-sea hydrothermal vents.

The most recent Ice Age is well-known because we humans have had our entire history within it. We think ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica are typical, even though they're not. More than about 10,000 years ago, there was a severe glacial period that covered the continents in glaciers as far south as Chicago and Paris. During this time period, humans had to mostly avoid colonizing Europe or northern Asia, as these areas were frozen solid. For this reason, human fossils predating the last glacial period are found only in Africa, the Middle East, China, Southeast Asia, Australia, and only small parts of Europe such as Spain and southern France.

Michael is a longtime InfoBloom contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

Michael is a longtime InfoBloom contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

The Ice Age

Was there an ice age? In most public schools, students are taught that there have been at least five major ice ages in Earth’s multi-billion-year history. The last one is claimed to have started 2.58 million years ago, and then retreated about 10,000 years ago. Obviously, this timescale is incompatible with biblical history. Nonetheless, there is scientific evidence for one ice age that occurred within the biblical timescale. The real ice age occurred shortly after the global flood and lasted a few hundred years.

What is an ice age? Many people have the misconception that an ice age is simply a cold Earth – that the Earth’s global temperatures were below what they are today. But merely turning down Earth’s temperature does not result in an ice age it merely results in a cold Earth. To have an ice age, we need ice: glaciers. Today, about ten percent of the Earth’s land is covered by glaciers. During the ice age, about thirty percent of Earth’s land was covered by glaciers. So, the Earth was not a frozen snowball during the ice age. Sections of the Earth were tropical at the time. The ice age simply reflects a time when the Earth had more ice, covering about three times as much of the land as we have today.

There is compelling evidence for an ice age. Glacial striations are scratches that occur on certain rocky outcrops and indicate glacial motion. These striations were caused by rocks and pebbles embedded in the underside of a glacier as it moved over the outcrop. Glacial striations occur in parts of the world that today are not covered by glaciers. So we know that glaciers were much more extensive in the past.

When glaciers melt, they deposit the rocks and other debris that were frozen within. This is called a glacial till. The material found within a glacial till can be traced to its uphill source since glaciers slide downhill over time. Of course, rapidly moving water can also deposit rocks and pebbles. But deposits left by water are well-sorted larger, heavier rocks will fall out of suspension in water before smaller, lighter ones. However, the rocks deposited by a glacier are unsorted.

From glacial striations and glacial tills, we can know approximately where the glaciers were during the peak of the ice age. At that time, glaciers covered most of Canada, down through the central United States, including New York, and Washington State. In Europe, glaciers covered Germany, Ireland, Scandinavia, and western Russia.

The Cause of the Ice Age

But what caused the ice age? What ended it? Interestingly, secular scientists do not have a self-consistent answer to those questions. Many people have the impression that a reduction in Earth’s global temperature would naturally result in an ice age. But it won’t. During the ice age, the glaciers were three times more extensive than they are today. But lowering Earth’s temperature will not do this. A cold Earth would have cold oceans, which do not evaporate efficiently, and cold air cannot hold much moisture. This would tend to result in less snowfall, and therefore fewer glaciers. And of course, an increase in Earth’s temperature will not result in an ice age either, because it will tend to result in the melting of glaciers that already exist.

Most secular scientists invoke the Milankovitch theory to explain the ice age. This theory involves the gradual changes in the shape of Earth’s orbit around the sun in conjunction with the precession of Earth’s rotation axis. This supposedly results in various parts of the Earth receiving either more or less sunlight, thereby affecting the temperature. However, it does not adequately resolve the aforementioned difficulty – that a reduction in temperature does not result in more ice. Moreover, the Milankovitch theory is internally inconsistent since it relies on two contradictory dates for a given core sample.[1]

The problem remains. What physical mechanism could result in the Earth having glaciers three times more extensive than today? First, we require increased snowfall so the glaciers can build up over time. Second, we require mild seasons: relatively cool summers are needed so that the ice doesn’t melt as much, and relatively warm winters are needed since warm air holds more moisture than cold air, thereby allowing more snowfall. Warm oceans and cooler continents would be ideal for the formation of glaciers. Warm ocean water evaporates readily, and when the moist air moves over cooler land, the temperature drops resulting in snowfall, since cooler air cannot retain much moisture. But what would cause these conditions?

The Global Flood

The global flood described in Genesis 6-8 would naturally result in the conditions necessary to cause an ice age, as demonstrated by creation scientist Michael Oard.[2] During the flood, “the fountains of the great deep burst open” (Genesis 7:11). This may refer to underwater volcanoes, perhaps nearly all the volcanoes on Earth erupting simultaneously. In any case, the flood was associated with violent tectonic activity. Most creation scientists believe that the continents were connected before the flood into a single landmass which split apart during the Genesis flood. The enormous energy from this geological activity would warm the ocean waters substantially.

Second, the volcanic activity would eject aerosols into the Earth’s atmosphere. This would continue to some extent even after the waters from the flood retreated and the land appeared. These aerosols reflect some sunlight back into space. Since less sunlight reaches the continents, they would be cooler than normal. Even today when a major volcano erupts, it results in a temporary reduction in Earth’s temperature. Warm oceans and cool continents are the ideal conditions for the formation of glaciers. The warm ocean water would evaporate, and the moist air would move over the cool land masses. As the air cools, it cannot maintain its moisture, and snow would fall onto the land.

In the centuries that followed the global flood, the ice sheets built up over time. The warm oceans along with the aerosols in the atmosphere would have resulted in mild seasons: relatively cool summers and warm winters. Since much of the Earth’s water would be locked up in glaciers, the oceans would have been over 300 feet lower than they are today. This would result in natural land bridges (and ice bridges) between land masses that today are separated by water. This is an important consideration because the descendants of the animals aboard Noah’s ark were dispersing to the various parts of the world. People sometimes ask how the animals got from one continent to another, without realizing that the lower ocean levels would result in natural land and ice bridges.

Although the exact timescale is difficult to estimate, most creation scientists believe that the ice age built up for a few centuries after the global flood, and then receded over the next few centuries as geological activity waned. This is significant because it means that certain biblical persons would have lived during the ice age. These include Abraham and Job.

Biblical Evidence

Our best estimate places the global flood around the year 2348 B.C. From the information provided in the genealogies in Genesis chapter 11, we know that Abraham was born at least 292 years after the global flood, and hence around the year 2056 B.C.[3] He lived to an age of 175 years (Genesis 25:7). So, Abraham lived at around the time creation scientists estimate to be near the peak of the ice age. Consequently, the climate in the area would have been somewhat different from what it is today.

We see an example of this in the account of the separation of Lot’s family from Abraham’s as recorded in Genesis 13. Recall, Lot chose to live in the valley of the Jordon near Sodom, and eventually in Sodom, because it was lush and well-watered everywhere (Genesis 13:10-11). Today, this region is a desert. But during the ice age, the cooler temperatures and mild seasons would have made it the lush land the Bible describes.

Although we do not know the precise date when Job lived, most scholars believe that he lived around the same time as Abraham, roughly 2000 B.C. Job’s lifespan of more than 140 and possibly more than 200 years is consistent with the lifespan of human beings at that time.[4] And Job’s wealth is described in terms of livestock rather than silver or gold, which is consistent with the time of Abraham.

The text of Job contains some hints that Job indeed lived during the ice age. The book of Job has more references to ice than any other book of the Bible (Job 6:16, 37:10, 38:29).[5] The book of Job also has five references to snow – more than any other book of the Bible (Job 6:16, 9:30, 24:29, 37:6, 38:22).[6] This suggests that Job was very familiar with ice and snow. Job lived in the land of Uz, which we believe to be south of Israel, in the northwest part of Arabia. This area is quite warm today and snow is uncommon. But during the ice age, things would have been different.

We have good evidence from science and from the text of Scripture that an ice age occurred shortly after the global flood and as a direct consequence of it. With so much of Earth’s water trapped in glaciers, the ocean levels would have been at least 300 feet lower than today, resulting in land bridges and ice bridges between the continents. This was no accident. It was by the providence of God and helped the animals migrate to the various continents.

[2] Oard, M., An Ice Age Caused by the Genesis Flood, ICR, 1990.

[3] Specifically, Genesis 11:26 states that Terah was 70 years old when he became the father of Abram (Abraham), Nahor, and Haran. There is some debate as to whether this means all three were born at that time, or merely the first of the three, which may have been Nahor. In the latter view, Abraham was born somewhat later.

[4] Job 42:16 states that Job lived an additional 140 years after the events described in the book. Such events include the death of his previous offspring, which were apparently already adults at the time (Job 1:13). So Job may have been 60 years of age or so at the time of his testing.

[5] The only other places where this same Hebrew word is used are: Psalm 147:17, Genesis 31:40, Jeremiah 36:30, and Ezekiel 1:22.

[6] The other places where the same Hebrew word for snow is used are: Exodus 4:6, Numbers 12:20, 2 Samuel 23:20, 2 Kings 5:27, 1 Chronicles 11:22, Psalm 51:7, 147:16, 148:8, Proverbs 25:13, 26:1, 31:21, Isaiah 1:18, 55:10, Jeremiah 18:14, Lamentations 4:7. However, nearly half of these are figures of speech, such as “white as snow”, rather than a reference to literal snow.

How the Little Ice Age Changed History

It is easy to forget just how variable the climate of the earth has been, across the geologic time scale. That is partly because the extent of that variability is so difficult to imagine. A world entirely covered in ice, from pole to pole—the so-called snowball earth—is something we find it hard to get our heads around, even though the longest and oldest period of total or near-total glaciation, the Huronian glaciation, lasted for three hundred million years. A world without ice is also hard to visualize, though it is by comparison a much more recent phenomenon: perhaps only thirty-four million years ago, crocodiles swam in a freshwater lake we know as the North Pole, and palm trees grew in Antarctica. The reality is that our planet oscillates between phases with no ice, phases with all ice, and phases in the middle. The middle is where we happen to be right now—a fact that is responsible for our faulty perception of the earth’s climate as accommodating and stable.

In the roughly five thousand years of recorded human history, there has been one period in which we have had a real taste of our climate’s potential for moodiness, beginning around the start of the fourteenth century and lasting for hundreds of years. During this epoch, often known as the Little Ice Age, temperatures dropped by as much as two degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Compared with the extremes of snowball earth, that might not sound like much, but for people who lived through it the change was intensely dramatic. This was also the period between the end of the Middle Ages and the birth of the modern world. In a new book, “Nature’s Mutiny: How the Little Ice Age of the Long Seventeenth Century Transformed the West and Shaped the Present” (Liveright), the German-born, Vienna-based historian Philipp Blom argues that this is no coincidence—that there is a complex relationship between the social, economic, and intellectual disruption caused by the changed climate and the emerging era of markets, exploration, and intellectual freedom which constituted the beginning of the Enlightenment.

The Little Ice Age is an example of how we so often find complete consensus around every aspect of climate change. Just kidding. We know for sure that the earth became cooler: the evidence can be found through a variety of techniques for assessing historical temperatures, such as the study of ice cores and tree rings. There are also extensive written accounts of the cold in the form of letters and diaries, sermons, the records of wine growers, and so on. The cooling happened in phases, with an initial drop beginning around 1300, and a sharper and more abrupt onset of cold starting in 1570 and lasting for about a hundred and ten years. It is the latter period that provides the focus for Blom’s book. Agreement about the fact that the cooling occurred, however, is not matched by an equivalent consensus about why.

There is evidence that the cooling may have been caused by a decrease in sunspot activity, and therefore in solar radiation, or by an increase in volcanic eruptions. (Though the seismic causality might be the other way around, as Blom explains: changes in oceanic currents could have altered pressures on the continental shelves, which “may in turn have contributed to the increase in volcanic eruptions and earthquakes reported during this period.”) There is evidence, too, that the cooling was to at least some extent man-made. So many people died of disease in the Americas after the arrival of Columbus—fifty-six million, according to the latest research in Quaternary Science Reviews—and so many areas of cleared, cultivated land were abandoned, and thus allowed to reforest, that CO2 levels were measurably reduced and the planet’s temperature lowered. Blom does the sensible thing and dodges a final verdict on what caused all those vicious winters.

“How can you look into those eyes and make her sleep outside?”

Whatever the cause, the effects were pronounced. Although Blom’s focus is Europe, the most densely settled northerly area of the planet, he makes it clear that the effects of the Little Ice Age were global in scale. In China, then as now the most populous country in the world, the Ming dynasty fell in 1644, undermined by, among other things, erratic harvests. In Europe, rivers and lakes and harbors froze, leading to phenomena such as the “frost fairs” on the River Thames—fairgrounds that spread across the river’s London tideway, which went from being a freakish rarity to a semi-regular event. (Virginia Woolf set a scene in “Orlando” at one.) Birds iced up and fell from the sky men and women died of hypothermia the King of France’s beard froze solid while he slept. Some of the central events of English history turn out to have been linked to the Little Ice Age: in 1588, the Spanish Armada was destroyed by an unprecedented Arctic hurricane, and a factor in the Great Fire of London, in 1666, was the ultra-dry summer that succeeded the previous, bitter winter. Fingerprints of the cold period can be found in surprising places. Why do the most admired violins in the history of music, made by Stradivarius and Guarneri, come from the middle of the Little Ice Age? Blom cites research arguing that trees took longer to mature in the cold, which resulted in a denser wood, with “better sound qualities and more intense resonance.”

The most consequential effect of the frigid weather, Blom argues convincingly, was to disrupt the harvest, especially the grain harvest. It led to a fundamental shift in the social order across Europe, and beyond. The Little Ice Age amounted to “a long-term, continent-wide agricultural crisis,” as Blom writes. Grain harvests did not return to their previous levels for a hundred and eighty years. That affected everything about how society worked. Before this moment in European history, society was largely organized along feudal lines. The bulk of the population consisted of peasants, living on land owned by a lordly overclass. Town life, meanwhile, was dominated by restrictive guilds, and, in Blom’s description, it “valued social capital—class and family standing, trustworthiness, competition—but did not encourage anyone to reach beyond his station.” This settled order, which had lasted for centuries, was overturned. At first, there were panics and uprisings, food riots and rebellions, and a spike in witch trials—because, in a pre-scientific world, the idea that witches were responsible for failing harvests made as much sense as any other explanation.

Over time, however, larger structural shifts emerged. In the basic bargain of feudal life, a peasant kept one part of his harvest for himself, put one part back into the ground for the next year’s harvest, and gave the last part to his feudal lord. When peasants had no surplus grain, this system collapsed. If local crops were failing, trading at a distance, to bring goods from farther afield, was critical. Money, and the ability to buy and sell with cash or its equivalent, took on a larger role. Cities with a culture of trade especially benefitted from this shift. The preëminent example in “Nature’s Mutiny” is Amsterdam, which went from being a sleepy backwater of the Habsburg Empire to a thriving, economically dynamic center of rapidly expanding commercial networks, with a population that grew tenfold in just over a century.

Here we see the birth of the idea that markets, and the rules of markets, have supremacy in human affairs we also see how the new dispensation offered opportunities to a new breed of ambitious, ruthless, commercially minded man. Amsterdam was the home of one of the world’s first big exploitative overseas businesses, the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie), or V.O.C. Blom tells the story of Jan Pieterszoon Coen, a V.O.C. official who burned down the Indonesian city of Jakarta and then led an expedition to punish traders on nearby islands who had broken the V.O.C. monopoly on nutmeg by selling to English and Portuguese merchants. Coen executed the merchants, killed fifteen thousand islanders, and sold the survivors into slavery. His feats in Indonesia would not have been possible, he told the company directors, “had not the Almighty fought on our side and blessed us.” For true believers, God and the rules of markets were becoming inseparable—a conflation that, Blom argues, was taken to justify the exploitation of both people and natural resources and would lead us to our contemporary moment of environmental crisis.

This is a sweeping story, embracing developments in economics and science, philosophy and exploration, religion and politics. Blom delivers much of his argument through compressed, beautifully clear life sketches of prominent men. We meet the philosopher (and retired soldier) René Descartes, the mage and proto-scientist John Dee, the essayist Michel Montaigne, the Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher, the excommunicated Jewish philosopher Baruch de Spinoza, the encyclopedist Pierre Bayle, and the great painter Rembrandt van Rijn, who both depicted and embodied the new human landscape of Dutch economic transformation.

In the course of “Nature’s Mutiny,” therefore, we travel a considerable distance from the subject of unusually cold weather. Too far, a reader might think, for Blom’s argument to be regarded as a case conclusively settled. But it wouldn’t be fair to “Nature’s Mutiny” to see the issue of proof so starkly. It is a book about a new economic system and the philosophical and cultural trends that accompanied it climate is central to the story that it tells, but the connections don’t aim for the solidity of algebraic logic. Rather, Blom is seeking to give us a larger picture that is relevant to the current moment. His book is about links and associations rather than about definitive proof it is about networks and shifts in intellectual mood, about correlations as much as causes. Despite that, Blom’s hypothesis is forceful, and has the potential to be both frightening and, if you hold it up to the light at just the right angle, a little optimistic. The idea can be put like this: climate change changes everything. ♦

Why Do Ice Ages Happen?

It's a little bit mysterious, especially when you throw in human-caused climate change.

Imagine the Chicago skyline. Now imagine it under nearly 2 miles (3 kilometers) of ice. That's what the landscape looked like at the peak of the last ice age.

In the scope of Earth's recent geologic history, this wouldn't have been such an unusual sight. In the past 2.6 million years (or what's known as the Quaternary Period), the planet has undergone more than 50 ice ages, with warmer interglacial periods in between.

But what causes ice sheets and glaciers to expand periodically? Ice ages are driven by a complex, interconnected set of factors, involving Earth's position in the solar system and more local influences, like carbon dioxide levels. Scientists are still trying to understand how this system works, especially because human-caused climate change may have permanently broken the cycle. [Has the Earth Ever Been This Hot Before?]

It wasn't until a few centuries ago that scientists started recognizing hints of past deep freezes. In the mid-19th century, Swiss-American naturalist Louis Agassiz documented the marks that glaciers had left on the Earth, such as out-of-place rocks and giant piles of debris, known as moraines, that he suspected ancient glaciers had carried and pushed over long distances.

By the end of the 19th century, scientists had named four ice ages that occurred during the Pleistocene Epoch, which lasted from about 2.6 million years ago until about 11,700 years ago. It wasn't until decades later, however, that researchers realized that these cold periods came with much more regularity.

A major breakthrough in the understanding of ice age cycles came in the 1940s, when Serbian astrophysicist Milutin Milankovitch proposed what became known as the Milankovitch cycles, insights into Earth's movement that are still used to explain climate variation today.

Milankovitch outlined three main ways Earth's orbit varies with respect to the sun, Mark Maslin, a professor of paleoclimatology at University College London, told Live Science. These factors determine how much solar radiation (in other words, heat) reaches the planet.

First, there's the eccentric shape of Earth's orbit around the sun, which varies from nearly circular to elliptical on a 96,000-year cycle. "The reason why it has that bulge is because Jupiter, which is 4% of the mass of our solar system, has a strong gravitational effect, which shifts the Earth's orbit out and then back," Maslin explained.

Second, there's the tilt of Earth, which is the reason we have seasons. The tilted axis of Earth's rotation means one hemisphere is always leaning away from the sun (causing winter) while the other is leaning toward the sun (causing summer). The angle of this tilt varies on a cycle of about 41,000 years, which changes how extreme the seasons are, Maslin said. "If [the axis] is more upright, then of course the summers are going to be less warm and the winter is going to be a little less cold."

Third, there's the wobble of Earth's tilted axis, which moves as if it were a spinning top. "What happens is, the angular momentum of the Earth going round and round very fast once a day causes the axis to wobble around as well," Maslin said. That wobble occurs on a 20,000-year cycle.

Milankovitch identified that orbital conditions for cool summers were especially important precursors to ice ages. "You&rsquore always going to have ice in winter," Maslin said. "To build an ice age, you need to have some of that ice survive through the summer."

But, to transition into an ice age, orbital phenomena alone aren't enough. The actual causation of an ice age is the fundamental feedback in the climate system, Maslin said. Scientists are still teasing apart how various environmental factors influence glaciation and deglaciation, but recent research has suggested that greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere play an important role.

For instance, scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany have shown that the onsets of past ice ages were triggered mainly by decreases in carbon dioxide and that the dramatic increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, because of human-caused emissions, has likely suppressed the onset of the next ice age for up to 100,000 years.

"Like no other force on the planet, ice ages have shaped the global environment and thereby determined the development of human civilization," Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, then-director of PIK and a co-author of one of those studies, said in a statement in 2016. "For instance, we owe our fertile soil to the last ice age that also carved out today's landscapes, leaving glaciers and rivers behind, forming fjords, moraines and lakes. However, today it is humankind with its emissions from burning fossil fuels that determines the future development of the planet."

Watch the video: MCND ICE AGE MV (July 2022).


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