The Little Ice Age was a global phenomenon that struck the Earth after the Medieval Warm Period. Though not a true ice age, there was a severe decrease in temperature spanning the length of 3 centuries. Many scientists speculate what may have caused this vast cooling.
Some say it was caused by lower radiation emitted from the sun, others say volcanic eruptions are to blame, and some believe the ocean current conveyor may have temporarily stopped working, inevitably affecting Earth’s surface temperature.
This cold period began in the 16th century and ended three centuries later in the 19th century, though there is some debate by experts about how early it started. The amount of people affected both directly and indirectly, during this time, is unfathomable.
Millions died, if not from the cold itself, but from famine and disease.
Long bouts of cold killed many of the common cereal crops grown throughout the Medieval Warm Period. This caused many to die from starvation. Already weak from lack of food, many people stayed indoors to avoid the elements which only helped aid in the spreading of fatal diseases, take the bubonic plague for example.
Climate shaped our history
The effect of The Little Ice Age on history is very significant.
The French for example, whose government was already in a state of unrest, were fed up with these bleak conditions. With no end in sight they began to fight back against an aristocratic society. This set the stage for the French Revolution, sending France on a path headed towards democracy.
The Spanish Armada is yet another example of how climate shaped our history. As most know, the Spanish were defeated by the British in the English Channel. What most don’t know is that after the Spanish had been cut off from a clear path home to retreat, their only option was to sail up the East side of Britain, around Scotland and Ireland and then return home.
Climate’s role in North American history is equally as interesting. The attack on Christmas Day at the Delaware river was a success thanks to the weather conditions. After experiencing many losses, it was looking like the Revolutionary War may be won by the British after all. That is until some of the revolutionary troops made a daring attempt to cross the ice-cold Delaware River on Christmas Day to attack the unsuspecting Hessians. This victory gave new life for the Revolutionary War, so much so that some claim it was the turning point that changed the entire outcome of the war.
The Little Ice Age encouraged creativity
Perhaps considered less than life changing events to have spawned from The Little Ice Age, though equally as interesting, is Mary Shelley’s, “Frankenstein”, and the Stradivarius violin.
Story has it that Mary Shelley and her husband were vacationing with friends at their usual holiday spot. Due to bad weather, they were unable to hike and do all their regular leisurely activities. While cooped up indoors, a challenge was put forth encouraging all in attendance to write the scariest story, and thus, “Frankenstein” was born.
The Stradivarius violin is said to be one of the best sounding violins around. Some experts believe that the tree growth during The Little Ice Age is what makes it sound so good. During colder periods the rings on the trees become closer together, altering the woods density and therefore altering the sound of the violin.
These are just a handful of examples of how climate may have helped shaped the world we live in today. It’s humbling to know we are just one part of a very large puzzle.
This is a guest post written by Carrol Lowthian.
Carrol is originally from England and is currently attending school in the United States for Environmental Studies with the hopes of continuing her love for the environment into the Restoration Ecology field.