Resurrecting Maunder’s Ghost: The Rediscovery of the Maunder Minimum. June 29, 2016.
Counting in everyday life is a relatively straightforward affair; one, two, three, and on and on. Less simple is the process of reliably counting the number of sunspots on the surface of the sun. Sunspots are darkened areas on the solar surface. In Europe, people knew of their existence at least since the early 17th century, and some of the larger sunspots were probably noted long before Galileo. Elsewhere, sunspot counts were maintained for much longer. More
What was the Maunder Minimum? New Perspectives on an Old Question. June 9, 2016.
Although it may seem like the sun is one of the few constants in Earth’s climate system, it is not. Our star undergoes both an 11-year cycle of waning and waxing activity, and a much longer seesaw in which “grand solar minima” give way to “grand solar maxima.” During the minima, which set in approximately once per century, solar radiation declines, sunspots vanish, and solar flares are rare. During the maxima, by contrast, the sun crackles with energy, and sunspots riddle its surface. More
Clio and Climate: On Saving and Researching a Climate History Archive. May 16, 2016.
In 2008, I had a meeting at the Environment Canada headquarters in Downsview, Ontario, and afterward staff gave me a tour. Since I’m a historian, they showed me the old stuff. Down in the basement – not quite the warehouse scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but close enough – they led me along row after row of weather observations: all of the original paper forms and registers that since 1840 had been filled out by what would eventually be thousands of observers at thousands of weather stations across Canada. More
The Global Cooling Event of the Sixth Century. Mystery No Longer? May 2, 2016.
The June 1991 Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines was one of the largest volcanic eruptions of the twentieth century. It is well documented. There are living witnesses, newspaper articles, detailed surveys of the mountain before and after it blew its top, and satellite maps of the ejecta. The eruption was photographed from the ground and the air, and today you can even YouTube it. More
Contextualizing Western Drought. April 18, 2016.
At the 2016 American Society of Environmental History conference in Seattle, I joined Linda Nash (University of Washington), Char Miller (Pomona College), and Libby Robin (The Australian National University) to contextualize Western drought in environmental, historical and cultural terms. ‘Western drought’ in this instance referred to the region that the US Drought Monitor classifies as ‘West’, where some areas are still experiencing ‘exceptional’ drought conditions. More
Did the Spanish Empire Change Earth's Climate? February 29, 2016.
Ask most people about climate change, and you will soon find that even the relatively informed make two big assumptions. First: the world’s climate was more or less stable until recently, and second: human actions started changing our climate with the advent of industrialization. More
A Conversation about Archaeology in the Arctic. January 17, 2016.
For the third episode of the Climate History Podcast, Dr. Dagomar Degroot interviews two leading archaeologists of the medieval and early modern Arctic: Dr. Thomas McGovern of the City University of New York, and Dr. George Hambrecht of the University of Maryland College Park. More
Teaching Climate History in a Warming World. December 17, 2015.
This semester, I taught my first course devoted exclusively to the environmental history of climate change. The course was, as one of my senior auditors pointed out, unusually ambitious. Luckily, I had a group of brilliant, hard-working students who embraced its challenges. Their coursework included a fifteen-page essay that connected a change in past global or regional climates to an episode in human history. They had to find a topic and then use a primary source to make an argument about that topic. They needed to support their argument using a blend of scientific and humanistic scholarship. The results were impressive, and you can read some of the abstracts here. More
Assessing the Future During COP21. November 30, 2015.
This week, roughly 40,000 delegates from 147 nations gather in Paris for the twenty-first annual "Conference of Parties" (COP21) in the fight against climate change. For the first time, participating governments will seek a legally binding agreement on mitigating and adapting to climate change. Their ambition will be to ensure that average global temperatures do not rise more than two degrees Celsius above their preindustrial averages. However, this goal now faces at least four serious challenges. More
Featured Image, June 2016:
Not so much an image as an interactive graph, showing the relative Google search interest - not the absolute number of searches - for four terms associated with past climate change.
CO2 injected deep underground turns to rock - and stays there. New Scientist
Is wacky weather helping melt Greenland? Science
Kingdom-Busting Volcanoes Linked to the Rise of the Roman Empire. New Scientist
See Earth’s Temperature Spiral Toward 2°C. Climate Central
Climatic and Environmental Aspects of the Mongol Withdrawal From Hungary in 1242 CE. Nature
Report Warns of Climate Disasters that Rival Hollywood's. New York Times
Matter, Juerg et al. “Rapid carbon mineralization for permanent disposal of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions.” Science 352 (2016): 1312-1314. doi: 10.1126/science.aad8132.
Allan, Rob et al. “Toward Integrated Historical Climate Research: The Example of Atmospheric Circulation Reconstructions over the Earth.” Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 7 (2016): 164–74. doi:10.1002/wcc.379.
Ayre, M., J. Nicholls, C. Ward, and D. Wheeler. “Ships’ Logbooks from the Arctic in the Pre-Instrumental Period.” Geoscience Data Journal 2 (2015): 53–62.
Boehm, O., J. Jacobeit, R. Glaser, and K.-F. Wetzel. “Flood Sensitivity of the Bavarian Alpine Foreland since the Late Middle Ages in the Context of Internal and External Climate Forcing Factors.” Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 19 (2015): 4721–34. doi:10.5194/hess-19-4721-2015.
Büntgen, Ulf, et al. “Cooling and Societal Change during the Late Antique Little Ice Age from 536 to around 660 AD.” Nature Geoscience advance online publication (February 8, 2016). doi:10.1038/ngeo2652.
Clarke, Joanne, et al. “Climatic Changes and Social Transformations in the Near East and North Africa during the ‘long’ 4th Millennium BC: A Comparative Study of Environmental and Archaeological Evidence.” Quaternary Science Reviews 136 (2016): 96–121. doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2015.10.003.
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