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Sioux Falls Scientists endorse The Little Ice Age for showing how
350 years of colder weather led to the collapse of northern
settlements, crop failures and famines, and focused
colonization on the warmer southern regions.

The Little Ice Age
How Climate Made History 1300-1850
By Brian Fagan

The Little Ice Age (2000) - 245 pages
The Little Ice Age at Amazon.com

How does climate affect history? For the first time we can begin to answer this question, as Brian Fagan shows us in this lively and original journey through time and weather.

The Little Ice Age, the most significant climate event of the last millennium, was sandwiched between two warm spells - the Medieval Warm Period, which lasted from about 900 to 1300 AD, and the present global warming, which began in about 1850. Although climatologists long suspected the broad outlines of these periods, only within the past decade have they developed an accurate picture of climate conditions in historical times. They can now determine yearly average temperatures and rainfalls, the times and magnitude of volcanic eruptions, and even how brightly the sun shone centuries ago.

Fagan draws upon this fascinating research to show how the balmy weather of the Medieval Warm Period first made Iceland, then Greenland, attractive colonies for Norse expansion. Colder centuries ultimately led to the abandonment of Greenland, but colder ocean currents also forced vast shoals of cod, a staple food through Europe, into the western Atlantic Ocean. English and Basque fishing fleets followed the cod down the coast of North America for centuries, making many temporary landings, before the Pilgrims made a permanent settlement on Cape Cod, with the mission "to praise God and to fish."

Storms, cold, and rain meant more crop failures for people already living a marginal existence. Until recently it took nine out of every ten workers in Europe just to grow enough to eat - and the deteriorating climate put their world under severe stress. By 1600, when the coldest two centuries of the Little Ice Age began, a worsening food crisis had been developing for nearly three centuries. In Flanders and England, the response was an agricultural revolution that was a prelude to the Industrial Revolution. Ireland adopted the potato, an import from the Americas, so fervently that by 1800 Irish farmworkers ate almost nothing else - two generations later they would suffer the worst famine Ireland had ever known.

France adapted the least of all: It changed neither its farming methods nor its crops, and the continuing slow decline of living standards throughout the worst years of the Little Ice Age led to chronic near-famine and increasing crime, widespread social breakdown, and ultimately chaos and revolution. The Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Irish Potato Famine were all partly brought on by the climate change.

In viewing history through the lens of climate, The Little Ice Age brings together a huge range of sources, from the dates of long-ago wine harvests and the business records of 14th century monasteries to the latest chemical analysis of ice cores. Fagan weaves the information into a story that will fascinate anyone interested in history, weather, and how the two interact.

Brian Fagan is American's leading writer on archeology. A Professor of Archeology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, he is the author of Floods, Famines and Emperors, The Great Journey, and many other popular works, and the editor of The Oxford Companion to Archeology. He lives in Santa Barbara, California.

11-25-17 Climate foiled Europeans’ early exploration of North America
‘A Cold Welcome’ examines how the Little Ice Age and other factors shaped colonial history. Many people may be fuzzy on the details of North America’s colonial history between Columbus’ arrival in 1492 and the Pilgrims’ landing on Plymouth Rock in 1620. But Europeans were actively attempting to colonize North America from the early 16th century onward, even though few colonies survived. As historian Sam White explains in A Cold Welcome, most early attempts were doomed by fatally incorrect assumptions about geography and climate, poor planning and bad timing. White weaves together evidence of past climates and written historical records in a comprehensive narrative of these failures. One contributing factor: Explorers assumed climates at the same latitude were the same worldwide. But in fact, ocean currents play a huge role in moderating land temperatures, which means Western Europe is warmer and less variable in temperature from season to season than eastern North America at the same latitude. On top of that, explorations occurred during a time of global cooling known as the Little Ice Age, which stretched from the 13th to early 20th centuries. The height of exploration may have occurred at the peak of cooling: Starting in the late 16th century, a series of volcanic eruptions likely chilled the Northern Hemisphere by as much as 1.8 degrees Celsius below the long-term average, White says. This cooling gave Europeans an especially distorted impression of their new lands. For instance, not long after Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno landed in California’s Monterey Bay in December 1602, men’s water jugs froze overnight — an unlikely scenario today. Weather dissuaded Spain from further attempts at colonizing California for over a century.

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The Little Ice Age
How Climate Made History 1300-1850
By Brian Fagan

Sioux Falls Scientists endorse The Little Ice Age for showing how
350 years of colder weather led to the collapse of northern
settlements, crop failures and famines, and focused
colonization on the warmer southern regions.