LEIPZIG, Germany — Is weather history repeating itself? The Arctic has experienced a steady increase in temperature since the 1980s, causing meteorological patterns that resemble 14th century Europe, research shows.
Scientists from the Leibniz Institutes for the History and Culture of Eastern Europe (GWZO) and Tropospheric Research (TROPOS) weather transitions in ancient Europe in the early 1300s and discovered droughts similar to the conditions in Europe in 2018. The droughts from 1302 and 1307 brought about a period of ice which caused a famine from 1315 to 1321.
Researchers published a study which displays the similarities between medieval and recent climate in Europe. The researchers developed the hypothesis that constant patterns in weather are followed by a transition in climate.
The Freigeist Junior Research Group compared the climate in Europe from 1309 to 1321, known as the Dantean Anomaly, to the recent heat and drought in Europe in 2018. Due to the rapid weather change in 14th century Europe, an ice age occurred, followed by The Great Famine from 1315 to 1321. After this, Europe was plagued by the Black Death which killed approximately 30% of the population.
Researchers believe the Dantean Anomaly led to the devastation that wiped out many Europeans. High temperatures and atmospheric pressures caused extreme heat and droughts, followed by a long period of decreased temperatures and precipitation producing The Little Ice Age.
“Sources from the Middle East also report severe droughts. Water levels in the Nile, for example, were exceptionally low. Therefore, we think that the 1304-06 drought was not only a regional phenomenon but probably had transcontinental dimensions,” says Dr. Thomas Labbé, from the GWZO, in a statement.
Can past climate predict the future?
Researchers are evaluating historical sources from the regions of northern Italy, southeastern France, and east-central Europe. “We want to show that historical climate change can be reconstructed much better if written historical sources are incorporated alongside climate archives like tree rings or sediment cores. The inclusion of humanities research contributes to a better understanding of the social consequences of climate change in the past and to conclude the future,” explains Dr. Martin Bauch, who heads the junior research group.
Crops such as wheat and the production of wine depend on certain temperatures and amounts of precipitation, making them ideal for pinpointing historical weather patterns. Likewise, recorded fires indicate possible droughts in the area at the time, and therefore, help researchers determine possible climate changes in certain years. Analyzing these historical climate shifts can shed light on the current climate change caused by global warming.
“Even if it was a phase of cooling in the Middle Ages and we are now living in a phase of man-made warming, there could be parallels. The transitional period between two climate phases could be characterized by smaller temperature differences between the latitudes and cause longer-lasting, large-scale weather patterns, which could explain an increase in extreme events,” notes meteorologist Dr. Patric Seifert from TROPOS, who was responsible for reconstructing the large-scale weather situations for the study.
Results indicated a correlation between urban fires and drought. “We think our analysis is the first to find a correlation between fires and droughts over a two-hundred-year period. Large urban fires usually followed droughts by a year,” says Bauch. “The wooden structures in medieval houses did not dry out immediately. However, once they did, they ignited very easily.”
Distinct historical annotations such as buckets of water and deeper wells were also recorded in response to dry periods.
“According to our analysis, the drought of 1302-1307 was a once-in-a-century event with regard to its duration. No other drought reached these dimensions in the 13th and 14th centuries. The next event that came close was not until the drought of 1360-62, which stretched across Europe and for which there indications in the historical record in Japan, Korea, and India,” concludes Annabell Engel, M.A., from GWZO.
“It is difficult to conclude future climatic developments in the 21st century from our study. While climate fluctuations in the 14th century were natural phenomena, in the modern age, humans are exerting artificial influence on the climate, as well,” adds Bauch and Seifert.
Findings are published in the journal Climate of the Past.