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Climate of the Past An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  18 Aug 2020

18 Aug 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal CP.

Cryptotephra from the Icelandic Veiðivötn 1477 CE eruption in a Greenland ice core: confirming the dating of 1450s CE volcanic events and assessing the eruption's climatic impact

Peter M. Abbott1, Gill Plunkett2, Christophe Corona3, Nathan J. Chellman4, Joseph R. McConnell4, John R. Pilcher2, Markus Stoffel5,6,7, and Michael Sigl1 Peter M. Abbott et al.
  • 1Climate and Environmental Physics and Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, 3012 Bern, Switzerland
  • 2Archaeology and Palaeoecology, School of Natural and Built Environment, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast BT7 1NN, UK
  • 3Geolab, Université Clermont Auvergne, CNRS, F-63000, Clermont-Ferrand, France
  • 4Desert Research Institute, Nevada System of Higher Education, Reno, Nevada 89512, USA
  • 5Climatic Change Impacts and Risks in the Anthropocene (C-CIA), Institute for Environmental Sciences, University of Geneva, 1205 Geneva, Switzerland
  • 6Department of Earth Sciences, University of Geneva, 1205 Geneva, Switzerland
  • 7Department F.-A. Forel for Environmental and Aquatic Sciences, University of Geneva, 1205 Geneva, Switzerland

Abstract. Volcanic eruptions are a key source of climatic variability and reconstructing their past impact can improve our understanding of the operation of the climate system and increase the accuracy of future climate projections. Two annually resolved and independently dated palaeoarchives – tree rings and polar ice cores – can be used in tandem to assess the timing, strength and climatic impact of volcanic eruptions over the past ~ 2500 years. The quantification of post-volcanic climate responses, however, has at times been hampered by differences between simulated and observed temperature responses that raised questions regarding the robustness of the chronologies of both archives. While many chronological mismatches have been resolved, the precise timing and climatic impact of one or more major sulphate emitting volcanic eruptions during the 1450s CE, including the largest atmospheric sulphate loading event in the last 700 years, has not been constrained. Here we explore this issue through a combination of tephrochronological evidence and high-resolution ice-core chemistry measurements from the TUNU2013 ice core.

We identify tephra from the historically dated 1477 CE eruption of Veiðivötn-Bárðarbunga, Iceland, in direct association with a notable sulphate peak in TUNU2013 attributed to this event, confirming that it can be used as a reliable and precise time-marker. Using seasonal cycles in several chemical elements and 1477 CE as a fixed chronological point shows that ages of 1453 CE and 1458/59 CE can be attributed, with a high accuracy, to two notable sulphate peaks. This confirms the accuracy of the NS1-2011 Greenland ice-core chronology over the mid- to late 15th century and corroborate the findings of recent volcanic reconstructions from Greenland and Antarctica. Overall, this implies that large-scale Northern Hemisphere climatic cooling affecting tree-ring growth in 1453 CE was caused by a Northern Hemisphere volcanic eruption in 1452 CE and then a Southern Hemisphere eruption, previously assumed to have triggered the cooling, occurred later in 1458 CE.

The direct attribution of the 1477 CE sulphate peak to the eruption of Veiðivötn, the most explosive from Iceland in the last 1200 years, also provides the opportunity to assess its climatic impact. A tree-ring based reconstruction of Northern Hemisphere summer temperatures shows a cooling of −0.35 °C in the aftermath of the eruption, the 356th coldest summer since 500 CE, a relatively weak and spatially incoherent climatic response in comparison to the less explosive but longer-lasting Icelandic Eldgjá 939 CE and Laki 1783 CE eruptions, that ranked as the 205th and 9th coldest summers respectively. In addition, the Veiðivötn 1477 CE eruption occurred around the inception of the Little Ice Age and could be used as a chronostratigraphic marker to constrain the phasing and spatial variability of climate changes over this transition if it can be traced into more regional palaeoclimatic archives.

Peter M. Abbott et al.

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Peter M. Abbott et al.

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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Volcanic eruptions are a key source of climatic variability and greater understanding of their past influence will increase the accuracy of future projections. We use volcanic ash from a 1477 CE Icelandic eruption in a Greenlandic ice core, as a temporal fixpoint to constrain the timing of two 1450s CE eruptions and their climatic impact. Also, despite being the most explosive Icelandic eruption of the last 1200 years the 1477 CE event had a limited impact on Northern Hemisphere climate.
Volcanic eruptions are a key source of climatic variability and greater understanding of their...