The Little Ice Age

By | Jun 29, 2009

Between 1400 and 1850, areas of the earth had three periods when the weather got cooler with the minima being around 1650, 1770 and 1850.  Scientist term this period the Little Ice Age.  While there is a disagreement on when it began, there is agreement that in ended in the mid 19th century.

The Little Ice Age brought bitterly cold winters to parts of the world, and is thoroughly documented in Europe and North America. Glaciers in the Swiss Alps advanced in the 17th century. The River Thames often froze over during the winter. The first Thames freeze was in 1607; the last in 1814. During the American Revolution in the winter of 1780, New York Harbor froze, allowing people to walk from Manhattan to Staten Island.

While many scientists believe it was a global event, there is not much documentation from the southern hemisphere to show proof. There aren’t many records available. One documented case does show snow falling in the city of Sydney Australia in 1836. This is the only time since European settlement in 1788 that it occurred.

Scientists have theories on the reason for the Little Ice Age.  They have research that shows that during this period that there was a decrease in solar activity as well as an increase in volcanic activity.  From 1645-1715 sunspots were extremely low, some years there were no sunspots at all.

1816 is known as the year without summer.  During this summer the climate in Northern Europe, the American Northeast and eastern Canada was colder than normal and destroyed many crops. New England and Eastern Canada recorded two snowstorms in June.  Ice was observed as far south as Pennsylvania in July. The volcanoes La Soufriere in the Caribbean, Mayon in the Philippines and Tambora in Indonesia were active during this period.

Mark Eakin, who heads the paleoclimatology program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is quoted as saying “There’s the very real potential of the climate system changing dramatically and rapidly”. While this may be possible many scientist say that the possibility of a sudden freeze doesn’t mean mankind can relax efforts to curb global warming. They warn that given the complexity of Earth’s climate, human activities that spew greenhouse gases into the atmosphere may increase the potential for an abrupt cooling.


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