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Medieval Misery: The Little Ice Age

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

#30 Science in History

02 February 1046

On this day, in 1046, monks record the onset of a cold snap that may have heralded the onset of a cooling period known as the Little Ice Age.

The Frozen Thames 1677

"And that winter was so severe, that the Thames and the Medway were frozen so hard, that people crossed over them as if on dry land."

Anglo-Saxon Chronicles entry for the year 1068-69

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles record events in Anglo-Saxon England from the 9th to the 11th centuries. Although written before the Little Ice Age, they do mention events consistent with the effects of the Little Ice Age.

The Little Ice Age (LIA) was a period of cooling, lasting from around 1250 to 1650. Evidence suggests it was localised to Northern Europe and so was not a true, global ice age. Several factors contributed to the LIA, including changes in solar radiation, volcanic eruptions and changes to weather patterns. During this time, the advance and retreat of glaciers is seen, as well as increased frequency of damaging weather events – flooding, droughts and severe cold resulting in several famines and widespread disruption.

The LIA has been extensively studied by scientists, and there is a wealth of information available on the subject. Some of the key sources of information on the LIA include historical records, such as shipping logs, diaries, and government records, as well as scientific studies, including ice core and tree ring studies, and analyses of temperature data.


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