A press release from the American Geophysical Union (link) announced the new paper.
According to the new study, the Little Ice Age began abruptly between 1275 and 1300 A.D., triggered by repeated, explosive volcanism and sustained by a self-perpetuating sea ice-ocean feedback in the North Atlantic Ocean. The primary evidence comes from radiocarbon dates from dead vegetation emerging from rapidly melting icecaps on Baffin Island, combined with ice and sediment core data from the poles and Iceland, and from sea-ice climate model simulations, said Gifford Miller, who led the study.
During the cool spell, advancing glaciers in mountain valleys in northern Europe destroyed towns. Famous paintings from the period depict people ice-skating on the Thames River in London and canals in the Netherlands, places that were ice-free before and after the Little Ice Age. There is evidence also that the Little Ice Age affected places far from Europe, including South America and China.
While scientific estimates regarding the onset of the Little Ice Age extend from the 13th century to the 16th century, there has been little consensus, said Miller. “The dominant way scientists have defined the little Ice Age is by the expansion of big valley glaciers in the Alps and in Norway,” said Miller. “But the time in which European glaciers advanced far enough to demolish villages would have been long after the onset of the cold period,” said Miller, a Fellow at his university’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research.
Most scientists think the Little Ice Age was caused either by decreased summer solar radiation, erupting volcanoes that cooled the planet by ejecting shiny aerosol particles that reflected sunlight back into space, or a combination of both, said Miller.
The new study suggests that the onset of the little Ice Age was caused by an unusual, 50-year-long episode of four massive tropical volcanic eruptions. Climate models used in the new study showed that the persistence of cold summers following the eruptions is best explained by sea-ice ocean feedbacks originating in the North Atlantic Ocean.
“This is the first time anyone has clearly identified the specific onset of the cold times marking the start of the Little Ice Age,” said Miller. “We also have provided an understandable climate feedback system that explains how this cold period could be sustained for a long period of time. If the climate system is hit again and again by cold conditions over a relatively short period — in this case, from volcanic eruptions — there appears to be a cumulative cooling effect.”Read more here.