February 27, 2017

“Dumb Norsemen go into the north outside the range of their economy, mess up the environment and then they all die when it gets cold”

Filed under: Americas, History, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Debunking the Greenland myth in the Smithsonian:

Those tough seafaring warriors came to one of the world’s most formidable environments and made it their home. And they didn’t just get by: They built manor houses and hundreds of farms; they imported stained glass; they raised sheep, goats and cattle; they traded furs, walrus-tusk ivory, live polar bears and other exotic arctic goods with Europe. “These guys were really out on the frontier,” says Andrew Dugmore, a geographer at the University of Edinburgh. “They’re not just there for a few years. They’re there for generations — for centuries.”

So what happened to them?


Thomas McGovern used to think he knew. An archaeologist at Hunter College of the City University of New York, McGovern has spent more than 40 years piecing together the history of the Norse settlements in Greenland. With his heavy white beard and thick build, he could pass for a Viking chieftain, albeit a bespectacled one. Over Skype, here’s how he summarized what had until recently been the consensus view, which he helped establish: “Dumb Norsemen go into the north outside the range of their economy, mess up the environment and then they all die when it gets cold.”


But over the last decade a radically different picture of Viking life in Greenland has started to emerge from the remains of the old settlements, and it has received scant coverage outside of academia. “It’s a good thing they can’t make you give your PhD back once you’ve got it,” McGovern jokes. He and the small community of scholars who study the Norse experience in Greenland no longer believe that the Vikings were ever so numerous, or heedlessly despoiled their new home, or failed to adapt when confronted with challenges that threatened them with annihilation.

“It’s a very different story from my dissertation,” says McGovern. “It’s scarier. You can do a lot of things right — you can be highly adaptive; you can be very flexible; you can be resilient — and you go extinct anyway.” And according to other archaeologists, the plot thickens even more: It may be that Greenland’s Vikings didn’t vanish, at least not all of them.

H/T to Kate at Small Dead Animals for the link.

April 17, 2015

Viking Greenland during the Little Ice Age

Filed under: Americas, Environment, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Charlotte Persson looks at what happened to the Viking settlers in Greenland as the Little Ice Age set in:

In the middle of the 13th century the Vikings who had settled in Greenland encountered no less than ten years of harsh and cold winters and summers. The Norsemen, who were living as farmers, bid farewell to many of their cattle during that period.

The Greenland Vikings were also prevented from setting sail to fetch supplies from their homelands in Europe because they didn’t have enough timber to build trading ships. So when Scandinavian traders didn’t happen to pass by they were left entirely on their own.

But this didn’t knock them out; on the contrary they lived with the worsening climate for almost 200 years during what we later would call the Little Ice Age. This is the conclusion of a new Ph.D. thesis.

“The stories we have heard so far about the climate getting worse and the Norsemen disappearing simply don’t hold water. They actually survived for a long time and were far better at adapting than we previously thought,” says the author of the new study, Christian Koch Madsen, Ph.D. student at the National Museum of Denmark.

January 28, 2014

The last Frost Fair on the Thames

Filed under: Britain, Environment, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 08:29

The famous river doesn’t freeze as it did during the Little Ice Age, so the very last Frost Fair was held in 1814:

Painting by Luke Clenell, entitled The Fair on the Thames, Feb'y 4th 1814

Painting by Luke Clenell, entitled The Fair on the Thames, Feb’y 4th 1814

It is 200 years ago since the last “frost fair” — an impromptu festival on a frozen Thames, complete with dancing, skittles and temporary pubs. Could such hedonism be repeated today?

Londoners stood on the Thames eating gingerbread and sipping gin. The party on the frozen river had begun on 1 February and would carry on for another four days.

The ice was thick enough to support printing presses churning out souvenirs. Oxen were roasted in front of roaring fires, drink was liberally taken and dances were held. An elephant was marched across the river alongside Blackfriars Bridge.

It was February 1814. George III was on the throne, Lord Liverpool was prime minister and the Napoleonic wars would soon be won.

People didn’t know it then but this “frost fair” — a cross between a Christmas market, circus and illegal rave — would be the last. In the 200 years that have elapsed since, the Thames has never frozen solid enough for such hedonism to be repeated.

But between 1309 and 1814, the Thames froze at least 23 times and on five of these occasions — 1683-4, 1716, 1739-40, 1789 and 1814 — the ice was thick enough to hold a fair.

Update: Over lunch, I was reading Correlli Barnett’s Marlborough and came across this description of the onset of winter in 1708-09 (and a frost fair that the BBC didn’t list):

And for Europe too the coming of a Whig administration in England was a fateful event. The Whig leaders were hot for the exaction from Louis XIV of ‘no peace without Spain – entire’, without any compromise whatsoever. Yet in the winter and spring of 1709 even such inflated war aims began to look practicable. Before the Duke at last closed down the Oudenarde campaign in January 1709, long after the normal time for going into winter quarters, he had retaken Bruges and Ghent. And the siege of Ghent witnessed the onset of an enemy even more terrible to France than Marlborough. In the last days of 1708 cold of unimagined bitterness closed on Europe like a trap. At Ghent the sentinels of besieged and besieging forces alike were frozen to death at their posts. And this was only a beginning: after a short and deceptive thaw in January, the cold set in like another ice age, the people of Europe cringing month after month under a bruise-coloured sky heavy with snow. On the frozen Thames at London Bridge there was an ice fair; a little city of booths and stalls stretching from bank to bank, and bonfires twinkling across the ice in the polar gloom. From Brussels Marlborough was reporting to Heinsius in February:

    The continuall snow as well as hard frost will, if it continues, kill al the cattel of this country and bee very inconvenient for our garrisons, for even in this town we have no forage but what we bring dayly by carts …

The port of Harwich was ice bound; so were the Dutch ports. There were ice floes in the Channel. Even the mouth of the Tagus at Lisbon was frozen. It was fortunate indeed that the Duke had not carried out his post-Oudenarde plan to invade France, or his army might now have been lying somewhere between Abbeville and Paris, with seaborne supplies cut off by ice, and dependent for subsistence on what it could find in the French countryside.

And in France, already impoverished by war as she was, famine had come in the wake of frost. The cattle died; the vines split. In the towns and the country the starving wandered in search of food in ragged, despairing packs. The very fabric of French society seemed in peril from the effects of the cold.

December 2, 2013

Sea level changes during recorded history

Filed under: Environment, Europe, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:50

Some interesting points in this guest post by Robert W. Endlich:

Sea level changes over relatively recent geologic and human history demonstrate that alarmist claims do not withstand scrutiny. Sea levels rose significantly after the last ice age, fell during the Little Ice Age, and have been rising again since the LIA ended around 1850. In fact, Roman Empire and Medieval port cities are now miles from the Mediterranean, because sea levels actually fell during the Little Ice Age.


Those rising oceans created new ports for Greek and Roman naval and trade vessels. But today many of those structures and ruins are inland, out in the open, making them popular tourist destinations. How did that happen? The Little Ice Age once again turned substantial ocean water into ice, lowering sea levels, and leaving former ports stranded. Not enough ice has melted since 1850 to make them harbors again.

The ancient city of Ephesus was an important port city and commercial hub from the Bronze Age to the Minoan Warm period, and continuing through the Roman Empire. An historic map shows its location right on the sea. But today, in modern-day Turkey, Ephesus is 5 km from the Mediterranean. Some historians erroneously claim “river silting” caused the change, but the real “culprit” was sea level change.

Ruins of the old Roman port Ostia Antica, are extremely well preserved – with intact frescoes, maps and plans. Maps from the time show the port located at the mouth of the Tiber River, where it emptied into the Tyrrhenian Sea. The Battle of Ostia in 849, depicted in a painting attributed to Raphael, shows sea level high enough for warships to assemble at the mouth of the Tiber. However, today this modern-day tourist destination is two miles up-river from the mouth of the Tiber. Sea level was significantly higher in the Roman Warm Period than today.

An important turning point in British history occurred in 1066, when William the Conqueror defeated King Harold II at the Battle of Hastings. Less well-known is that, when William landed, he occupied an old Roman fort now known as Pevensey Castle, which at the time was located on a small island in a harbor on England’s south coast. A draw bridge connected it to the mainland. Pevensey is infamous because unfortunate prisoners were thrown into this “Sea Gate,” so that their bodies would be washed away by the tide. Pevensey Castle is now a mile from the coast – further proof of a much higher sea level fewer than 1000 years ago.

December 12, 2012

Climatic witchcraft

No offense intended to practitioners of witchcraft intended:

Superstition about the weather in particular is hardly surprising, given the awesome power of nature. Witnessing storms, lightning and even the daily rising and setting of the sun surely induced fear and wonder in primitive cultures. The same fear and wonder are what warmists exploit today in linking weather extremes to global warming.

Scholars tell us that weather superstition often found expression in ritual human sacrifice. The Mayans, for instance, tossed victims into a limestone sinkhole to appease the rain god Chaac.

And it’s only a few centuries since superstition over the climate led to intensive witch hunts and widespread executions, usually by burning, for witchcraft.

University of Chicago economist Emily Oster demonstrated in 2004 that the most active era of witchcraft trials in Europe coincided with the Little Ice Age. Since then, other researchers have argued that chilly weather may have precipitated the Salem witch trials in the 1690s — one of the coldest periods of that epoch.

It was widely believed during the late Middle Ages that witches were capable of controlling the weather with their magic powers, and thus cause storms that could destroy harvests and hobble food production.

[. . .]

Our obsession with weather extremes has reached such heights that it has become a knee-jerk reaction for climate-change alarmists to ascribe any unusual weather event at all to global warming. So they tell us that heat waves, floods, harsh winters, dust storms — even wildfires — are all the result of man-made CO2. But a check of records from, say, the 1930s or the 1950s, when the CO2 level was much lower than now, reveals that such events are nothing new.

Climate-change skeptics might be regarded as modern-day witches because they think that global warming comes from natural forces. However, it’s superstitious alarmists, who believe that extreme weather originates in our CO2 emissions and who have a dread of impending disaster, who are really the witches.

November 10, 2012

“Carbon sequestration in peatland may be one of the main reasons why ice age conditions have occurred time after time”

Filed under: Environment, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Overall, global cooling is far more to be feared than global warming … and we may be seeing the conditions that would create a new ice age in the near future:

A group of Swedish scientists at the University of Gothenburg have published a paper in which they argue that spreading peatlands are inexorably driving planet Earth into its next ice age, and the only thing holding back catastrophe is humanity’s hotly debated atmospheric carbon emissions.

“We are probably entering a new ice age right now. However, we’re not noticing it due to the effects of carbon dioxide,” says Professor of Physical Geography Lars Franzén, from the Department of Earth Sciences at Gothenburg uni.

[. . .]

The scientists have calculated that the potential is there for Swedish peatlands to triple in extent, enormously increasing their carbon sink effect. By extrapolating to include the rest of the world’s high-latitude temperate areas – the parts of the globe where peatland can expand as it does in Sweden – they project the creation of an extremely powerful carbon sink. They theorise that this is the mechanism which tends to force the Earth back into prolonged ice ages after each relatively brief “interglacial” warm period.

“Carbon sequestration in peatland may be one of the main reasons why ice age conditions have occurred time after time,” says Franzén.

With no other factors in play, the time is about right for the present interglacial to end and the next ice age to come on. Indeed, Franzén and his crew think it has barely been staved off by human activity

Caution should be exercised with this as with all climate-model-based predictions: our models are still not good enough to be dependable, so this is no more something to panic about than the “global warming” scare of the last decade. It is something to consider and to try to develop better models and collect more data to support or contradict the findings.

March 23, 2012

New evidence that the Medieval Warm Period was not local to Europe

Filed under: Environment, History, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:25

AntarcticaLewis Page summarizes some recent findings published in the peer-reviewed Earth and Planetary Science Letters journal:

More peer-reviewed science contradicting the warming-alarmist “scientific consensus” was announced yesterday, as a new study shows that the well-documented warm period which took place in medieval times was not limited to Europe, or the northern hemisphere: it reached all the way to Antarctica.

The research involved the development of a new means of assessing past temperatures, to add to existing methods such as tree ring analysis and ice cores. In this study, scientists analysed samples of a crystal called ikaite, which forms in cold waters.

[. . .]

A proper temperature record for Antarctica is particularly interesting, as it illuminates one of the main debates in global-warming/climate-change: namely, were the so-called Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age merely regional, or were they global events? The medieval warmup experienced by northern Europeans from say 900AD to 1250AD seems to have been at least as hot as anything seen in the industrial era. If it was worldwide in extent that would strongly suggest that global warming may just be something that happens from time to time, not something caused by miniscule concentrations of CO2 (the atmosphere is 0.04 per cent CO2 right now; this figure might climb to 0.07 per cent in the medium term).

January 29, 2012

Step aside, Ottawa: London may have “Frost Fairs” on the Thames in future

Filed under: Britain, Environment, Europe, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:48

The Thames River used to freeze over solidly enough that temporary buildings could be erected on the ice. Northern Europe may be facing those kinds of cold winter temperatures in the future:

The supposed ‘consensus’ on man-made global warming is facing an inconvenient challenge after the release of new temperature data showing the planet has not warmed for the past 15 years.

The figures suggest that we could even be heading for a mini ice age to rival the 70-year temperature drop that saw frost fairs held on the Thames in the 17th Century.

Based on readings from more than 30,000 measuring stations, the data was issued last week without fanfare by the Met Office and the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit. It confirms that the rising trend in world temperatures ended in 1997.

Meanwhile, leading climate scientists yesterday told The Mail on Sunday that, after emitting unusually high levels of energy throughout the 20th Century, the sun is now heading towards a ‘grand minimum’ in its output, threatening cold summers, bitter winters and a shortening of the season available for growing food.

June 17, 2011

Sunspots and the Maunder Minimum

Filed under: Environment, History, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:20

Don J. Easterbrook provides more background information on the historical situation at the time of the last low-to-no-sunspot period:

Galileo’s perfection of the telescope in 1609 allowed scientists to see sunspots for the first time. From 1610 A.D. to 1645 A.D., very few sunspots were seen, despite the fact that many scientists with telescopes were looking for them, and from 1645 to 1700 AD sunspots virtually disappeared from the sun (Fig. 1). During this interval of greatly reduced sunspot activity, known as the Maunder Minimum, global climates turned bitterly cold (the Little Ice Age), demonstrating a clear correspondence between sunspots and cool climate. After 1700 A.D., the number of observed sunspots increased sharply from nearly zero to more than 50 (Fig. 1) and the global climate warmed.

FIGURE 1. Sunspots during the Maunder Minimum (modified from Eddy, 1976).

The Maunder Minimum was not the beginning of The Little Ice Age — it actually began about 1300 AD — but it marked perhaps the bitterest part of the cooling. Temperatures dropped ~4º C (~7 º F) in ~20 years in mid-to high latitudes. The colder climate that ensued for several centuries was devastating. The population of Europe had become dependent on cereal grains as their main food supply during the Medieval Warm Period and when the colder climate, early snows, violent storms, and recurrent flooding swept Europe, massive crop failures occurred. Winters in Europe were bitterly cold, and summers were rainy and too cool for growing cereal crops, resulting in widespread famine and disease. About a third of the population of Europe perished.

Glaciers all over the world advanced and pack ice extended southward in the North Atlantic. Glaciers in the Alps advanced and overran farms and buried entire villages. The Thames River and canals and rivers of the Netherlands frequently froze over during the winter. New York Harbor froze in the winter of 1780 and people could walk from Manhattan to Staten Island. Sea ice surrounding Iceland extended for miles in every direction, closing many harbors. The population of Iceland decreased by half and the Viking colonies in Greenland died out in the 1400s because they could no longer grow enough food there. In parts of China, warm weather crops that had been grown for centuries were abandoned. In North America, early European settlers experienced exceptionally severe winters.

June 14, 2011

Pack up your worries about global warming: unpack your parka and mittens

Filed under: Environment, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 15:18

I’ve been skeptical about the whole global warming issue, and I’d like to be equally skeptical about a new ice age threat:

What may be the science story of the century is breaking this evening, as heavyweight US solar physicists announce that the Sun appears to be headed into a lengthy spell of low activity, which could mean that the Earth — far from facing a global warming problem — is actually headed into a mini Ice Age.

Lower sunspot activity translates into likely lower temperatures here on earth, just like in the “Maunder Minimum” period, also known as the “Little Ice Age”.

Early records of sunspots indicate that the Sun went through a period of inactivity in the late 17th century. Very few sunspots were seen on the Sun from about 1645 to 1715. Although the observations were not as extensive as in later years, the Sun was in fact well observed during this time and this lack of sunspots is well documented. This period of solar inactivity also corresponds to a climatic period called the “Little Ice Age” when rivers that are normally ice-free froze and snow fields remained year-round at lower altitudes. There is evidence that the Sun has had similar periods of inactivity in the more distant past.

As I wrote back in 2004, “I’ve never been all that convinced of the accuracy of the scientific evidence presented in favour of the Global Warming theory, especially as it seemed to play rather too clearly into the hands of the anti-growth, anti-capitalist, pro-world government folks. A world-wide ecological disaster, clearly caused by human action, would allow a lot of authoritarian changes which would radically reduce individual freedom and increase the degree of social control exercised by governments over the actions and movement of their citizenry. “

On the other hand, as Bjorn Lomborg has pointed out, humanity is better adapted to dealing with higher temperatures than lower ones — as are most living creatures. Given a choice between the risks of increasing temperatures globally and the risks of a new ice age, it should be pretty easy to figure out which scenario allows the better chances for all of humanity to survive and thrive.

Update: Anthony Watts has more. “If we are right, this could be the last solar maximum we’ll see for a few decades,” Hill said. “That would affect everything from space exploration to Earth’s climate.”

Update, 15 June: My skepticism is overwhelmed by the skeptic-in-this-instance New Scientist‘s Michael Marshall, who does the quick math that a Maunder Minimum for the next 90 years would only lower global temperatures by 0.3C. And New Scientist is still bullish on the global warming potential of between 2 and 4.5 degrees Celsius over that same time period. They’re science writers and I’m not, but I have to say I’m still much more worried about the potential cooling than the potential warming.

May 31, 2011

A bit of climate-change panic juxtaposition

First, the panic:

In a world of climate change, freak storms are the new normal. Newsweek‘s Sharon Begley on why we’re unprepared for the harrowing future, and how adapting to the inevitable might be our only option.
[. . .]
From these and other extreme-weather events, one lesson is sinking in with terrifying certainty. The stable climate of the last 12,000 years is gone. Which means you haven’t seen anything yet. And we are not prepared.

And, in the interests of balance, the eeeevil climate change denier:

Greenland’s early Viking settlers were subjected to rapidly changing climate. Temperatures plunged several degrees in a span of decades, according to research from Brown University. A reconstruction of 5,600 years of climate history from lakes near the Norse settlement in western Greenland also shows how climate affected the Dorset and Saqqaq cultures. Results appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [from Brown University] — The end of the Norse settlements on Greenland likely will remain shrouded in mystery. While there is scant written evidence of the colony’s demise in the 14th and early 15th centuries, archaeological remains can fill some of the blanks, but not all.

What climate scientists have been able to ascertain is that an extended cold snap, called the Little Ice Age, gripped Greenland beginning in the 1400s. This has been cited as a major cause of the Norse’s disappearance. Now researchers led by Brown University show the climate turned colder in an earlier span of several decades, setting in motion the end of the Greenland Norse.
[. . .]
The researchers also examined how climate affected the Saqqaq and Dorset peoples. The Saqqaq arrived in Greenland around 2500 B.C. While there were warm and cold swings in temperature for centuries after their arrival, the climate took a turn for the bitter beginning roughly 850 B.C., the scientists found. “There is a major climate shift at this time,” D’Andrea said. “It seems that it’s not as much the speed of the cooling as the amplitude of the cooling. It gets much colder.”

The Saqqaq exit coincides with the arrival of the Dorset people, who were more accustomed to hunting from the sea ice that would have accumulated with the colder climate at the time. Yet by around 50 B.C., the Dorset culture was waning in western Greenland, despite its affinity for cold weather. “It is possible that it got so cold they left, but there has to be more to it than that,” D’Andrea said.

December 10, 2009

At this rate, we’ll all think of a place when we hear the name “Darwin”

Filed under: Australia, Environment — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:14

It’s a long article, but well worth reading in full:

People keep saying “Yes, the Climategate scientists behaved badly. But that doesn’t mean the data is bad. That doesn’t mean the earth is not warming.”

Let me start with the second objection first. The earth has generally been warming since the Little Ice Age, around 1650. There is general agreement that the earth has warmed since then. See e.g. Akasofu. Climategate doesn’t affect that.

The second question, the integrity of the data, is different. People say “Yes, they destroyed emails, and hid from Freedom of information Acts, and messed with proxies, and fought to keep other scientists’ papers out of the journals . . . but that doesn’t affect the data, the data is still good.” Which sounds reasonable.

There are three main global temperature datasets. One is at the CRU, Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia, where we’ve been trying to get access to the raw numbers. One is at NOAA/GHCN, the Global Historical Climate Network. The final one is at NASA/GISS, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The three groups take raw data, and they “homogenize” it to remove things like when a station was moved to a warmer location and there’s a 2C jump in the temperature. The three global temperature records are usually called CRU, GISS, and GHCN. Both GISS and CRU, however, get almost all of their raw data from GHCN. All three produce very similar global historical temperature records from the raw data.

[. . .]


Yikes again, double yikes! What on earth justifies that adjustment? How can they do that? We have five different records covering Darwin from 1941 on. They all agree almost exactly. Why adjust them at all? They’ve just added a huge artificial totally imaginary trend to the last half of the raw data! Now it looks like the IPCC diagram in Figure 1, all right … but a six degree per century trend? And in the shape of a regular stepped pyramid climbing to heaven? What’s up with that?

Those, dear friends, are the clumsy fingerprints of someone messing with the data Egyptian style . . . they are indisputable evidence that the “homogenized” data has been changed to fit someone’s preconceptions about whether the earth is warming.

One thing is clear from this. People who say that “Climategate was only about scientists behaving badly, but the data is OK” are wrong. At least one part of the data is bad, too. The Smoking Gun for that statement is at Darwin Zero.

I’m in no way qualified to pass judgement on any of this. My bias is usually to trust that the scientist has no pre-decided outcome in mind . . . and that they verify their data supports the conclusions before publishing. Climategate/Climaquiddick shows that, at least in one field, this is not true.

Normally, this sort of science-by-press-release is quickly exposed (think of the cold fusion and the Korean human cloning announcements, for example), which works to quickly stamp out the inclination among others who might try to game the system. In the case of AGW, they did more groundwork before going to the press . . . but if Darwin Zero is an example of the kind of work they did everywhere, then it’s just a better-hidden case of science-by-press-release.

Except — and this is huge — the implications of the deception were not limited to a few undeserving white-coated “scientists” getting press coverage and grant money. The AGW movement aimed at nothing less than a take-over of the entire economy, putting carbon commissars in charge of everything. Their work would lead to pseudo-scientific based controls over all human activities (because, as the EPA recently decided, all greenhouse gases must be regulated . . . and there’s carbon dioxide produced every time you exhale).

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