Climate Change in the Recent Past: Selected Climate Events from Historical Records
By Fred Goldberg
Frontier Centre for Public Policy Backgrounder (April 2007)
Introduction: Through their entire existence, humans have always been at the mercy of rapid climate changes. The planet endured 7 or 8 ice ages during the last million years. Our ancestors have adapted to irregular cycles of cooling and warming, floods and droughts since the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago. They developed strategies for surviving harsh droughts, decades of heavy rainfall or long cold periods with failing crops.
The arrival of the Medieval Warm Period (MWP)
During the 9th and 10th centuries, a warm period arrived in the north Atlantic that made it possible for the Norse population along the overpopulated Norwegian coast to sail and colonize Iceland. Records indicate that in 874 the Vikings took advantage of favourable ice conditions and permanently colonized the island. Earlier, Iceland had always been surrounded by ice, therefore its name. For a few hundred years, Iceland hosted a thriving colony of Norsemen with a mild and stable climate. They survived because it was possible to grow crops and grass to feed sheep. The new settlers from mainland Norway were able to grow various cereals during this mild period, crops that cannot be grown today. That this is not possible today is one of the proofs that the MWP was warmer than now. In the early 13th century, the first signs of climate change arrived, with more ice in the waters surrounding Iceland, which made communication with Norway difficult and risky.