09 Dec 2021

09 Dec 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal CP.

Climatic, weather and socio-economic conditions corresponding with the mid-17th century eruption cluster

Markus Stoffel1,2,3, Christophe Corona1,4, Francis Ludlow5, Michael Sigl6, Heli Huhtamaa7, Emmanuel Garnier8, Samuli Helama9, Sébastien Guillet1, Arlene Crampsie10, Katrin Kleemann11,12, Chantal Camenisch7, Joseph McConnell13, and Chaochao Gao14 Markus Stoffel et al.
  • 1Change Impacts and Risks in the Anthropocene (C-CIA), Institute for Environmental Sciences, University of Geneva, 1205 Geneva, Switzerland
  • 2Department of Earth Sciences, University of Geneva, 1205 Geneva, Switzerland
  • 3Department F.-A. Forel for Environmental and Aquatic Sciences, University of Geneva, 1205 Geneva, Switzerland
  • 4Geolab, Université Clermont Auvergne, CNRS, 63000, Clermont-Ferrand, France
  • 5Trinity Centre for Environmental Humanities, and Department of History, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
  • 6Climate and Environmental Physics and Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, 3012 Bern, Switzerland
  • 7Institute of History and Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, 3012 Bern, Switzerland
  • 8UMR 6249 CNRS Chrono-Environnement, University of Bourgogne Franche-Comté, France
  • 9Natural Resources Institute Finland, Ounasjoentie 6, 96200 Rovaniemi, Finland
  • 10School of Geography, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland
  • 11Department of History, University of Freiburg, 79085 Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany
  • 12German Maritime Museum - Leibniz Institute for Maritime History, 27568 Bremerhaven, Germany
  • 13Division of Hydrologic Sciences, Desert Research Institute, 89512, Reno, USA
  • 14School of Environmental and Resource Sciences, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou 310058, China

Abstract. The mid-17th century is characterized by a cluster of explosive volcanic eruptions in the 1630s and 1640s, deteriorating climatic conditions culminating in the Maunder Minimum as well as political instability and famine in regions of Western and Northern Europe as well as China and Japan. This contribution investigates the sources of the eruptions of the 1630s and 1640s and their possible impact on contemporary climate using ice-core, tree-ring and historical evidence, but will also look into the socio-political context in which they occurred and the human responses they may have triggered. Three distinct sulfur peaks are found in the Greenland ice core record in 1637, 1641–42 and 1646. In Antarctica, only one unambiguous sulfate spike is recorded, peaking in 1642. The resulting bipolar sulfur peak in 1641–1642 can likely be ascribed to the eruption of Mount Parker (6° N, Philippines) on December 26, 1640, but sulfate emitted from Koma-ga-take (42° N, Japan) volcano on July 31, 1641, has potentially also contributed to the sulphate concentrations observed in Greenland at this time. The smaller peaks in 1637 and 1646 can be potentially attributed to the eruptions of Hekla (63° N, Iceland) and Shiveluch (56° N, Russia), respectively. To date, however, none of the candidate volcanoes for the mid-17th century sulphate peaks have been confirmed with tephra preserved in ice cores. Tree-ring and written sources point to severe and cold conditions in the late 1630s and early 1640s in various parts of Europe, and to poor harvests. Yet the early 17th century was also characterized by widespread warfare across Europe – and in particular the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), rendering any attribution of socio-economic crisis to volcanism challenging. In China and Japan, historical sources point to extreme droughts and famines starting in the late 1630s, and thus preceding the eruptions by some years. The case of the eruption cluster in the late 1630s and early 1640s and the climatic and societal conditions recorded in its aftermath thus offer a textbook example of difficulties in (i) unambiguously distinguishing volcanically induced cooling, wetting or drying from natural climate variability, and (ii) attributing political instability, harvest failure and famines solely to volcanic climatic impacts. This example shows that the impacts of past volcanism must always be studied within the contemporary socio-economic contexts, but that it is also time to most past reductive framings and sometimes reactionary oppositional stances in which climate (and environment more broadly) either is or is not deemed an important contributor to major historical events.

Markus Stoffel et al.

Status: open (until 03 Feb 2022)

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  • RC1: 'Comment on cp-2021-148', Anonymous Referee #1, 07 Jan 2022 reply

Markus Stoffel et al.

Markus Stoffel et al.


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Short summary
The mid-17th century saw several volcanic eruptions, deteriorating climate, political stability and famine in Europe, China and Japan. We analyze impacts of the eruptions on climate, but also study the socio-political context in which they occurred. We show that an unambiguous distinction of volcanic cooling or wetting from natural climate variability is not straightforward. It also shows that political instability, poor harvest and famine can not only be attributed to volcanic climatic impacts.