What Was The Little Ice Age?
Between the 1300’s and the 1800’s, the world experienced a period of colder than average temperatures, which today is referred to as the Little Ice Age. Some researchers, however, dispute the exact timeline of this era, suggesting that it occurred between the 1500’s and the 1800’s instead. Historical evidence also suggests that the Little Ice Age can be divided into two specific periods of time. The first of these cold periods lasted from roughly 1290 AD until the latter half of the 1400’s, with only slightly cooler temperatures than previously experienced. The 16th century ushered in a period of relatively warmer temperatures before giving way to the second period of the Little Ice Age, which occurred between the mid-1600’s and the early 1700’s. It is this second period that experienced the coldest temperatures of the entire Little Ice Age era.
Most of the written records available indicate that these colder temperatures were concentrated in the Northern Hemisphere of the world, although, climate records available from the Southern Hemisphere during this time period are either non-existent or not reliable. To truly understand what happened during the Little Ice Age and where it actually took place, then, researchers must rely on indirect evidence such as ocean sediment, tree rings, fossils, and ice samples.
What Happened During The Little Ice Age?
The Little Ice Age was not an ice age in the strictest sense of the phrase. During this time, the world was not covered in snow, ice, and glaciers as it was during the ice ages of millions of years ago. Instead, the winters were more severe, particularly throughout Europe and North America. These extreme temperatures resulted in a number of waterways freezing over during the winter months, which even stopped shipments between Greenland and Iceland for an extended amount of time. Additionally, the Baltic Sea froze over, rendering the fishing industry unsuccessful. Perhaps the most surprising result of the Little Ice Age occurred in the Alps Mountains, where glaciers grew and advanced down the mountains, sometimes destroying entire communities. As these winters turned into mild and wet summers, entire agricultural crops were lost or unproductive. This lack of agricultural production, in turn, resulted in insufficient food supplies, widespread hunger, and population loss. Other regions around the world experienced extended periods without rainfall.
What Caused The Little Ice Age?
Scientists have not yet reached a consensus on what exactly caused the Little Ice Age. Some possibilities, however, have been suggested to explain this change in climate, including: reduced solar energy, fluctuating oceanic pressure, more frequent volcanic eruptions, changes in ocean currents, and increased forest growth. Carbon dating of some ice samples indicate that the earth was exposed to less solar radiation during this time period, which potentially caused a decrease in temperatures. Additionally, geologic records indicate that volcanoes were particularly active during this time period as well. One example is the Tambora volcano eruption of 1815, which caused cold, winter-like summers the following year across Europe and North America. The flow of ocean waters is also believed to have had an effect on the Little Ice Age by allowing the water temperatures to become colder than normal. All of these events combined contributed to the period of time known as the Little Ice Age.