English monks record the onset of a cold snap so harsh that "no man then alive could remember so severe a winter as this was." Little do they realize that they are chronicling what might have signaled the beginning of a centuries-long cooling period now referred to as the Little Ice Age.
The monks set down their observations in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
, a loose collection of historical records kept in monasteries across England between the eighth and 12th centuries. The full weather report, given amid the lives and deaths and comings and goings and various perils facing the Anglo-Saxons, read: And in the same year, after Candlemas, came the strong winter, with frost and with snow, and with all kinds of bad weather; so that there was no man then alive who could remember so severe a winter as this was, both through loss of men and through loss of cattle; yea, fowls and fishes through much cold and hunger perished.
Remember, this was before the advent of heated barns and Gore-Tex
Although modern climatologists agree that the Little Ice Age
began after a warming period known as the Medieval Warm Period, they've been unable to fix exact dates for either its beginning or end. Nor do they have a consensus regarding its reach. The Little Ice Age was originally believed to have been a global phenomenon; subsequent research suggests that it may have been confined mainly to the Northern Hemisphere and was not nearly as severe as previously thought.
For dating purposes, the main part of the Little Ice Age can be said to have lasted from roughly 1250 to 1650. During this time, a growing Atlantic ice pack was observed, along with a consistent decline in summer temperatures across Northern Europe. During the mid-1500s, there were reports of expanding glaciers in both hemispheres.
In contrast to today's global warming phenomenon, human impact on the environment played little, if any, role at all in the Little Ice Age. The cause is generally ascribed to a combination of diminished solar activity and large volcanic eruptions.
Still, referring to it as an "ice age" at all may be an overstatement. Research suggests that, overall, the mean temperature decreased less than 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the affected areas.
You want an ice age
? Science identifies four periods that qualify, including the biggest one that occurred roughly 700 million years ago. Now that
was an ice age.
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