The "Little" Ice Age (ca 1500-1650 AD)

I just heard a show on NPR, about global warming (the latest environmental bugbear). The concensus of the scientists in this show, was that the tropical mountain glaciers are melting off (the Mt. Kilimanjaro icecap is expected to disappear by 2015). Big deal! I belive that the earth has had fairly violent climatic change within historic times-what about the so-called “little” ice age of the 1500’s? I recall seeing a lot of Dutch paintings from the period, showing people skating on the frozen canals (something that rarely happens in Holland these days!). I also recall reading that King Henry VIII used to travel by sleigh on the frozen Thames river (also never happens these daya). So, are we really SURE that our SUVs are wreaking environmental disaster on us? Surely W. Europe is a far better place to live today (as opposed to the 1500’s). Was Europe really that much colder back then?-and was this a totally natural process?

Climactic changes are definitely a part of life on this planet, but that doesn’t mean humans have absolutely no effect on them whatsoever. When you hear about recent polar expeditions that find a mile of open water at the North Pole in the summer, you kinda gotta wonder if something really is going on.

In trying to keep this out of GD for a little while, I will say that it’s ludicrous to blame SUVs as the sole cause of global warming. Big manufacturers, for example, can buy credits from the U.S. government that allow them to basically sidestep federal environmental regulations and pour that much more waste product into the air, the water, and the soil.

Global warming is a fact. I don’t think anyone has near enough information to prove whether it’s just a cyclical thing or if it’s a result of human action; it may very likely be both. The Little Ice Age in Europe was definitely more natural than man-made, though.

From the Britannica:

Fears that human-influenced global warming will turn this planet into another Venus are probably pretty overblown. However, relatively “normal” climate variations can definitely increase human misery, as the above shows. I very much doubt people in the United States or Western Europe will starve, but populations in areas of the world where conditions are already marginal could be hit by droughts, increased storm activity, floods, and famines; this in turn could lead to political instability and mass movements of people in those areas. It’s not like places like Bangladesh really need more and more powerful tropical cyclones; they have enough problems as it is.

OK, I should learn to do research before I open my mouth. A thirty-second plunge into Google netted a lot about the “open water” at the North Pole, some obviously biased, some not. Here are a couple links of interest:

This is from the National Center for Policy Awareness.

An article from the Anchorage Daily News.

And finally, a picture of the cryosphere from those wacky guys at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. I haven’t been able to dig into this, but their list of links to Global Change Sites might be of interest.

So… obviously the jury’s still out on this one. I certainly don’t have the damning evidence I thought I did, but I still think the amount of pollution being put out overall can’t be beneficial to the global temperature.

[note: I fixed the links. -manhattan

[Edited by manhattan on 02-24-2001 at 12:10 AM]

Scientists are concerned because the melting of tropical mountain glaciers indicates that mountaintop temperatures are now higher than they have been at any point in the last 2,000 or 3,000 years. Ice core studies from these glaciers also indicate that the past 50 years have been the warmest in recorded history, and that melting is accelerating after nearly 800 years of stability. So, from that perspective, it is a big deal.

The Little Ice Age was a genuine phenomenon, but the extent to which it may have been a regional or global phenomenon is not fully resolved. While it was certainly markedly colder (historic records of lakes/rivers freezing over, late start of spring), it was not a “violent climatic change” in the context of natural climate variability. Climate scientists looking into the possible causes of the Little Ice Age are looking very closely at the role of short-term solar variability, and there certainly wasn’t any sizable injection of CO2 into the atmosphere then a la post-Industrial Revolution time, so it’s reasonable to assume that the cold snaps were the result of natural climate variability.

There have been several GD threads on global warming that go over the arguments about anthropogenic contributions, so I’ll not bring any of that up here.