Ice Ages are known for lasting several hundred million years. So, the very term – Little Ice Age really makes no sense. However, that is the term that has conventionally been used in scientific literature since 1939. Interestingly, despite its namesake, the event was not really an Ice Age in true sense. So, what was it? What really happened? When did it happen? Why did it happen? In this article titled 30 interesting Little Ice Age facts, we will try to answer those questions.
Interesting Little Ice Age Facts: 1-5
1. Little Ice Age or LIA is used to refer to a period when the Northern Hemisphere experienced sudden and abrupt cooling.
2. There is no unanimous agreement on the exact date of LIA. Some reports say that LIA started in 16th century and lasted till 19th century, while some others say that it started somewhere about 1300 CE and continued till 1850 CE.
3. Irrespective of the fact that no exact date can be pinned down, it is agreed that the Little Ice Age was an event after Medieval Warm Period and the current warming period we are living in.
4. Modern research by NASA revealed that there were at least 3 significant cooling phases. The first phase began somewhere in 1650, the second significant phase began somewhere in 1770 and the finally the last significant phase started somewhere in 1850.
5. Today it is suggested that the cooling or the LIA was not a result of increased glaciation at a global scale but was rather a result of changes in regional climates that took place independently.
Interesting Little Ice Age Facts: 6-10
6. The LIA was a result of unexpected expansion of mountain glaciers in areas that included Alaska, southern Andes, New Zealand, and European Alps.
7. The average temperature dropped by 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit or 0.6 degree Celsius..
8. As far as the affects of LIA are concerned, a number of things happened. To begin with, several parts of North America and Europe started experiencing colder winters.
9. During mid 17th century, villages and farms were completely wiped out by the advancing glaciers.
10. Netherlands and Great Britain experienced colder winters where temperature drops were enough to freeze rivers and canals with ice sheets thick enough to support uninterrupted winter festivals as well as ice skating.
Interesting Little Ice Age Facts: 11-15
11. In Iceland, shipping business came to a halt and the harbors were completely shut down because the sea ice that surrounded Iceland stretched out for miles, closing all sea routes.
12. In Greenland, Norse colonies met with extinction because livestock ended up dead and crops failed because the winters became harsher. For nearly 310 years (1410-1720), Greenland was cut off from the rest of world because of the ice.
13. The increasing cold triggered some of the most devastating famines. For example, some say that the Great Famine that started in 1315 and lasted till 1317 was caused by the LIA. However, some other say that the Great Famine happened before the LIA.
14. France, Norway and Sweden were also hit by famines during the periods 1693-1694, 1695-1696 and 1696-1697 respectively. The famines in these countries claimed the lives of 10% of total population in each country.
15. Finland and Estonia were also struck by devastating famines in 1696-1697 and 5% of the total population of each country was wiped out.
Interesting Little Ice Age Facts: 16-20
16. Failure of agriculture in many parts of Europe because of the Little Ice Age made people to think that it was a result of witchcraft. This resulted in witch hunting and many women were brutally tortured and most of them were burned alive as people thought that the best way to kill a witch and her witchcraft was to burn her alive.
17. North America too faced exceptionally harsh winters and agriculture failed in many places. The fatality rate among both indigenous people as well as European settlers was very high.
18. Many other places were also affected too. For instance, glaciers advanced in Japan and the winter temperatures dropped further, taking the mean temperature during the winter months to 3.5 degrees Celsius or 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit. This result in bad and wet summers marked with excessive rains. This resulted in bad harvests.
19. In China’s Jiangxi Province where oranges (a warm weather crop) had been grown for many centuries were completely abandoned during the period of LIA.
20. In Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, several Aztec chronicles and Mayan chronicles were found that spoke of excessive drought and cold during the same period, thereby confirming that the Little Ice Age also affected that region. Even the Southern Hemisphere was not spared. Several studies have confirmed that Africa, New Zealand, Australia, South America and Australia all experienced episodes of excessive cold between 13th and 18th centuries.
Interesting Little Ice Age Facts: 21-25
21. As far as the causes of Little Ice Age are concerned, there again is no unanimous agreement. Several theories are in place. Some of the most popular theories include orbital cycles, solar activity, volcanic activity, human depopulation and ocean circulation.
22. Orbital cycles theory: The proponents of this theory say that as earth rotates around the sun, axis of earth gradually gets tilted and the shape of its orbit gradually changes and it is happening right now as we are writing this. This, according to the experts, affects the changes as the amount of sunlight that manages to reach mid-latitudes of earth by nearly 25%. This phenomenon is known as orbital forcing. According to the supporters of this theory, in last 2,000 years, this has led to a sustained and long-term cooling trend of the Northern Hemisphere, which translated into Little Ice Age. They also say that in modern times, human activity has significantly increased global warming because of the large scale emission of the green house gases and hence, reversed the cooling trend caused by orbital forcing.
23. Reduced human population theory: Some experts have hypothesized that reduction in human population due to several factors in Americas and Eurasia actually triggered the Little Ice Age. William Ruddiman, one of the key proponents of this hypothesis says that Middle East, East Asia and Europe experienced a massive decline in human population both during the Black Death as well as after the Black Death. This according to Ruddiman, led to reduced agricultural activities in those areas, which gave way for reforestation and increased CO2 uptake that eventually resulted in Little Ice Age.
24. In the Americas, according to Nevle in 2011 and Faust et al. In 2005, European contact eventually led to massive decrease in population in the Americas. Most of the lands that were acquired through deforestation for farming eventually stayed unused because of depopulation and led to reforestation and hence increased CO2 uptake, thereby reducing greenhouse gasses and hence leading to temperature decline.
25. Ocean circulation theory: Some experts believe that during the Medieval Warm Period managed to pump in enormously large volumes of fresh water into the salt water of the North Atlantic. This resulted in the slowing down of what is known as thermohaline circulation. This, according to scientists, triggered the LIA.
Interesting Little Ice Age Facts: 26-30
26. As of today, there is a widespread belief that the increased level of global warming can actually lead to slow down of thermohaline circulation once again because polar ice is melting, releasing fresh water, which can make its way into the North Atlantic through the northern seas. If this happens, we can face another period of cooling.
27. Volcanic activity theory: Now this is an interesting theory. It is well known fact that when volcanoes erupt, the releases ashes manage to travel high up in atmosphere and thereby effectively blocking sun rays. When this happens, global cooling takes place. In case of volcanoes with large sulfur content, sulfur dioxide is released in atmosphere. The gas being light manages to reach stratosphere where it coverts into particles of sulfuric acid. Sulfuric acid particles are know to reflect away sunlight, there by further reducing the global temperatures. Proponents of volcanic activity theory correctly pointed out that the period of Little Ice Age was marked with particularly high volcanic activities. The first eruption of 1258 was a massive one and it was possibly Mount Rinjani that erupted.
28. Later in 1268 there was another eruption but this time it was a smaller one. Then in 1275 there was a third eruption, followed by fourth eruption 1284. These back to back volcanic eruptions released massive amounts of sulfur dioxide in atmosphere and prevented climate recovery. A second round of cooling started when Kuwae erupted in 1452-53. Then there was Billy Mitchell eruption of 1580, Huaynaputina eruption in 1600, Mount Parker eruption in 1641, Long Island eruption of Papua New Guinea in around 1660 and Laki eruption of 1783.
29. No one can forget Indonesia’s Tambora eruption of 1815 that released a massive amount of ash which blanketed the earth. The result was that in 1816 Northern Europe and New England experienced snow and frost in months of June and July and hence, 1816 became popular in history as ‘Year Without a Summer’.
30. Solar activity theory: Scientists say that when sunspot activity decreases, total output of solar energy decreases and this in turn leads to a condition where Earth receives less of solar energy that can be used to keep earth’s surface warm. During the periods 1450-1540 and 1645-1715, there were two unusually low sunspot activities. The first one is known as Spörer Minimum and the second one is known as Maunder Minimum. Interestingly, both of these minimums took place during the coldest years of LIA on European front. Based on this observation, some scientists argued that reduced solar activity caused the LIA. Unfortunately, they however failed to explain how cooling took place in other parts of the world even in the absence of sunspots. This is why, solar activity theory is not a widely accepted theory.