Term Paper: Climate Change and General Crises in the Little ICE Age a Geographic Perspective

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Climate change and general crisis in the Little Ice Age: a geographic perspective

The Little Ice Age (LIA) is considered by some researchers to extend over several generations of time. Estimates show that the period began around the 13th and 14th centuries; another period in consideration is between the mid-16th and the mid-19th century (Grove, 1988). The significance of doing additional research into the background of The LIA is in hopes of gaining a better understanding as to the time, what the causes were, and where it has occurred. It is a hope that this research will give some clarity too the timeframe of the LIA and what had such an impact as to cause its occurrence; in addition to understanding the impact that LIA had globally. Method of research is a compilation of previous data collected and research conducted on the subject of LIA in an attempt to bring necessary clarity to the questions concerning the subject matter. The areas included in the current research include Greenland, Iceland, & Alaska. There is little agreement among professionals in the field as to the exact dates and extent of the LIA (Syszygyastro, n.d.).

Background & Data

The study of glacial landforms and deposits is important, as it is difficult to observe processes under modern glaciers and ice-sheets. Thus, landscapes and sediments that are the product of present glaciations can give insight into processes that occurred during Pleistocene times. This study investigates the genesis of little ice age glacial landforms present in Portage Glacier, South-Central Alaska. The moderately sorted gray sandy boulder gravel present on the 1900 and 1922 moraines is interpreted to be an ice-marginal deposit with a mixture of supraglacial and glaciofluvial sediments deposited by slumping and stream sorting processes. All of these features are interpreted to be ablation moraines representing glacier retreat and moraine building in 1900 and 1922 (Santos, Joao, & Cordova, 2009).

("Little Ice Age," 2010, para. 1) Beginning about 1450 A.D. An interval of relative cold, often called the Little Ice Age, has been identified. Occurring within the current warm interglacial period, the Little Ice Age cannot be regarded as a full glacial episode since the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere landmasses remained largely free of permanent ice cover. Nevertheless, the term has been used to describe an epoch of renewed glacial advance. Although many regions of the world experienced cooling during the period 1450 to 1890 A.D., with average surface temperatures in many regions at least 1°C lower than those of today, its use has been criticized because it has not conclusively been considered an event of global significance.

The Little Ice Age, a period of glacier expansion in alpine regions that began sometime between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries and lasted until late in the nineteenth century, was recorded not only in glacial features dated by geologic techniques but also in historical documents such as field sketches, land values, and weather records, especially in the Alps. Indirect evidence of its impact in other parts of the world includes the records of sea-ice extent near Iceland and Greenland, the fate of the Viking settlements in Greenland, and many other suggestions that the climate was colder in the recent past than it is today ( Wright, 1990). During the Little Ice Age, the climate of northern Europe turned volatile and markedly cooler. While this did not directly cause major historical events, it catalyzed significant social, political, and economic changes throughout the region. Widespread reliance on subsistence farming meant that bad weather and shortened growing seasons led to food shortages, even famines. Hunger, in turn, along with disease, war, crime, and economic forces, provoked widespread sociopolitical upheaval, including the collapse of Norse settlements in Greenland, the French Revolution, and the Irish Famine. While not unique in examining the influence of weather on the history of civilization, the LIA did have a significant impact (Curtis, 2001).

Lateral, medial, recessional, push, and terminal moraines are common features in Portage Valley Alaska. They are the product of ice recession and advance that occurred from 1810 until present time. All of these features have different orientations. End and recessional moraines have a southwest-northeast orientation and are perpendicular to ice flow. Lateral and medial moraines have a southeast-northwest orientation and are parallel to the ice flow direction in Portage Valley. The shape of these moraines is similar. They have sharp crests with steep slopes showing that they are very recent. Recessional moraines such as the ones deposited in 1900 and 1922 are the smallest features in Portage Valley. They represent short periods of standstill or ice retreat. This type of glacial regime allowed small deposition of morainal deposits. In contrast, terminal moraines such as the 1852 moraine are the largest features present in this area. In contrast to recessional moraines, these features are larger and they generally represent longer periods of deposition and moraine building. (Santos, Joao, & Cordova, 2009).

Research on global climate change, drawn from tree rings and Greenland ice cores, provides much detailed information on weather and climate history. This information can be correlated with historical accounts of major weather events and their influence on human conditions. When Europe became colder, wetter, and stormier. For people living near subsistence levels, as most Europeans did before 1800, abrupt changes in weather can mean the difference between prosperity and pauper hood or even between life and death especially if these changes last more than one season ( Cooper, 2001).

Hunt (2006) explains that the LIA was an episode of below average temperatures from 1550 to 1850 AD. However, there is no universal agreement as regards the precise dates of these events, and they were not episodes of continuous above or below average temperatures. In fact, controversy continues to exist over the reality of both the MWP and LIA. The principal concerns of the researchers was the lack of temporal correspondence between climatic variability in different regions, regional variability itself, the modest amplitude of the hemispheric mean temperature anomalies, and the sparseness and derivative nature of the observations. There are many observational studies documenting climatic perturbations, primarily temperature that advocate the occurrence of these events (Hunt, 2006)

During the past 4k years, there have been several multi-centennial cold periods during which glacier fronts have notably advanced. This sequence of cold periods is referred to as LIA, but today this epoch is called Neoglaciation. The more familiar term of LIA is used to describe the latest and most dramatic cold event of the Neoglaciation; during the LIA, there were substantial glacier advances. However, the exact timing of the LIA is not well defined. Paleoclimatologists use the term LIA to describe the coldest interval of their reconstructions over the last 1,000 years. Researchers argue that the beginning of the LIA should be around 1450, based on data from Greenland and Antarctica. Other researchers call the period between 1550 and 1850 the LIA and this definition seem to have been adopted by a multitude of researchers (Sedla'c-ek & Mysak, 2009).

This issue is not just an academic disagreement, as it has entered into the discussion of the credibility of the attribution of the current warming to the greenhouse effect, based largely on proxy data, have derived a northern hemispheric temperature time series from 1000 AD to the present. This time series has a shape with the curve of the stick representing the global warming over the past few decades, while the shaft of the stick represents the stationary time series of hemispheric temperature anomalies back to 1000 AD. The crucial issue is that no MWP is identified by the time series, thus justifying the probability that 1998 was the warmest year, and the 1990s the warmest decade, of the past millennium in the northern hemisphere. The significance of this statement is that this implies natural climatic variability cannot account for the present observed global warming (Hunt, 2006).

Reconstructing the temporal and spatial climate development on a seasonal basis during the last few centuries, including the LIA, researchers believe may help to better understand modern-day interplay between natural and anthropogenic climate variability. The conventional view of the climate development during the last millennium has been that it followed a sequence of a Medieval Warm Period, a cool 'Little Ice Age' and a warming during the later part of the 19th century and in particular during the late 20th/early 21st centuries. However, recent research has challenged this rather simple sequence of climate development. Up to the present, it has been considered most likely that the 'Little Ice Age' glacial expansion in western Scandinavia was due to lower summer temperatures. Data presented in this research conducted, however, indicates that the main cause of the early 18th century glacial advance in western Scandinavia was mild and humid winters associated with increased precipitation and high snowfall on the glaciers (Nesje, et al. 2008)

Glaciers and small ice caps in temperate environments are sensitive indicators of climatic change. Iceland is an important location for the study of North Atlantic climate… [END OF PREVIEW]

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