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Beginning Of The Little Ice Age

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If we take about 1550 as the beginning of the Little Ice Age it was after this that the Europeans experienced the coldest decades since the last Great Ice Age some 10,0000 years earlier. The Little Ice Age was a period of extremes, with both very cold and mild winters.

The first severe winter of the Little Ice Age, the coldest for 50 years was that of 1564-1565. A snippet from the Nieuwe Chonijcke van Brabant published in Antwerp.

“In this year of 64 it froze so severely for ten weeks on end that people in Antwerp crossed the Scheldt on foot and horseback from Boxing Day until Twelth Night, and because of the great novelty, stalls and tents were erected on the ice, where food and drink and other wares were sold.â€

Testimony to this bitter winter is a painting by Cornelius Jacobsz van Culemborch which comes from the Orphans’ Chamber in Delft Town Hall. It is entitled Iceberg by Delfshaven on 2 January 1565.

The inscription reads:

In the year 1565, on the afternoon of January the 2nd, an ice mountain came in on the flood at Delfshaven pier in little more than a quarter of an hour, and measured 23 roods high and 17 long.

Reference: Holland Frozen in Time; The Dutch Winter Landscape in the Golden Age.

Eat your heart out all lovers of ice and snow.:D

Edited by weather ship

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To continue in a little more detail the possible correlation between many severe winters in the Little Ice Age and snow and ice in paintings. In particular The Dutch Winter Landscape in the Golden Age which we can extend slightly to 1565 – 1700.

Systematic measurements of temperature, rainfall and snowfall only really began after the 17th century so how to get an idea of the weather during the period of interest. Fortunately a historical study of the climates of the Low Countries has been carried out by the historical geographer Jan Buisman. The sources he used included chronicles, diaries and journals, letters pamphlets and weather diaries.

A brief summation of his findings. It can be said that two out of three winters in the 17th century brought prolonged periods of freezing weather, snow and ice thus becoming a norm rather than an exception. One such winter has already been noted in the previous post but there were also severe winters in 1607-08, 1620-21, 1621-22. The second quarter of the century was mild by comparison but the last half of the century was severe with 1684 being perhaps the coldest month ever in the Netherlands.

This can now be looked at from another angle. Meteorological understanding of climatic variations during the Little Ice Age is increasing through use of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), which is now available from 1500. These seasonal values were also constructed using proxy data. The graph shoes that the NAO from 1550-1700 showed a negative index but it must be remembered that this data is smoothed and obviously there would have been periods of a positive index, maybe in the second quarter of the century. This negative index can possibly be construed as likely to produce more prolonged ice conditions than a positive when perhaps snow would be more likely. But as the NAO figures are seasonal averages one should be somewhat careful about drawing conclusions.

What is inescapable is that during the period there were many periods of prolonged freezing weather and Dutch landscape painters depicted them as a matter of course.

There are many examples one could use but to stick to two that have become icons. Peter Bruegal the Elder, Hunters in the Snow, 1565 (© Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) and Hendrick Avercamp, A Winter Scene with Skaters near a Castle, c. 1608. (© The National Gallery, London).

Actually the Bruegal throws up another question. It was painted towards the end of the Spörer minima when there was a very low level of solar activity.

References.

The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Sun, Kenneth R. Lang.

Holland Frozen in Time.

Ice and Snow in Paintings of Little Ice Age Winters, Peter J. Robinson,Weather, February 2005, Vol. 60, No.2

Edited by weather ship

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Interesting stuff.

I've always been intrigued as to what the average temperatures of these pre-1659 winters may have been. By all accounts the Great Winter of 1607-8 was a humdinger, perhaps as severe as 1683-4. Qualitative data can tell us a lot: if trees died of frost (as happened in both those winters), you know it must have been bitterly cold. Ditto for other observations such as the sea being frozen, being able to walk across large rivers for weeks on end, the ground being frozen to ridiculous depths, etc.

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The year 1608 also marked the twelve year truce with the war with Spain which was probably just as well.

The Reverend Johan van de Sande wrote the following about this frosty period, which saw the beginning of the Twelve Years' Truce.

There was such a severe frost in the full two months of January and February in the year , 1608 as had never been seen in living memory, with all the waters, streams and marshes, aye even the Zuider Zee, covered in ice, so that all the frontiers of the United Provinces lay open, an occasion which the enemy had so often desired that it might attack the interior of the country, so it was a special dispensation from God Almighty that arms were laid down just when this frost came.

One can’t help wondering whether the use of ‘frosty period’ is a reflection on how they considered these events at the time. I’m not sure ‘frosty period’ would be my description today.

Edited by weather ship

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I love reading eye-witness accounts of past weather events. They help to give us a reasonably accurate representation of what it must have been like.

I'm also intrigued as to how cold some of the individual days might have been. Trevor Harley claims on his website that the first 15 days of January 1684 averaged -6.6C (!), but it's far from clear to me where he could have obtained such specific data (monthly CET data goes back as far as 1659, but daily CET data only goes back as far as 1772). In any case, it's nigh on impossible to imagine a half-month that cold today! :cold:

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Thanks, I find the little ice age very interesting. In fact I was given a book as a gift a few years ago called "The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History 1300-1850" by Brian M. Fagan. Which doesn't just have the general facts, but goes into great detail about viking settlements, harvests, european history, vinyard locations, agriculture, nao, ice extent, diarists accounts, how people managed etc it really is a fascinating account and I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in this area.

It also makes me wonder if we are entering a cooling period how the infrastructure in the UK would cope with the same type of weather.

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I think a lot of people assume that every winter in that period was icebound. If you read Samuels Pepys' diary, there were some really severe winters but also mild ones. There is a diary entry from early December 1662 saying that there were snow on the rooves of London, something that hadn't been seen for 3 years.

So even in that period, there were still winters where snow was largely absent

Edited by Mr_Data

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