20 May 2021

20 May 2021

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

Was there a volcanic induced long lasting cooling over the Northern Hemisphere in the mid 6th–7th century?

Evelien van Dijk1, Johann Jungclaus2, Stephan Lorenz2, Claudia Timmreck2, and Kirstin Krüger1 Evelien van Dijk et al.
  • 1Department of Geosciences, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
  • 2Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg, Germany

Abstract. The climate in the Northern Hemisphere (NH) of the mid-6th century was one of the coldest during the last two millennia. The onset of this cold period is attributed to the volcanic double eruption event in 536 and 540 Common Era (CE) based on multiple paleo-proxies. Recently, there has been a debate about how long lasting and cold this volcanic induced cold period actually was.

To better understand this, we analyze new transient simulations over the Common Era and enhance the representation of mid 6th to 7th century climate by additional ensemble simulations covering 520–680 CE. We use the Max Planck Institute Earth System Model and apply external forcing as recommended in the Paleo Model Intercomparison Project, Phase 4. After the four large eruptions in 536, 540, 574, and 626 CE, a significant surface climate response up to 20 years is simulated. The Northern Hemisphere 2 m air temperature, and precipitation decreases up to 2 K, and 0.2 mm day−1, respectively, and sea ice area increases up to 1.5 x 1012 m2. The global ocean heat content decreases drastically by 1.5 x 1023 Jm−1, which is significant for 30–40 years, and does not totally recover during the entire study period. The surface maps reveal atmospheric circulation changes with a hemispheric dipole pattern and land see contrast in the first two years after the eruptions. Poleward of ∼ 45° N higher sea level pressure and a decrease in hydrological variables occur, accompanied by a land see contrast, with decreased values over land and an increase in values over the ocean, which is especially pronounced for evaporation during boreal summer. During boreal winter, a positive North Atlantic Oscillation develops in the first year after (three out of the four) large eruptions. Analysing underlying mechanisms in the North Atlantic reveals that complex interaction between sea-ice expansion, changes in barotropic streamfunction and meridional overturning circulation leads to a reduction in the ocean heat transport, which then further enhances sea ice expansion impacting NH surface climate up to 20 years.

Temperature records reconstructed from tree-rings in the NH agree well with the model simulations and show a similar ∼20 year cooling after the eruptions. A century of surface cooling starting in the mid-6th century, as shown from local tree-ring records from the Alps and Altai, does not occur in our volcanic climate model simulations, nor in the NH tree-ring compilation.

Evelien van Dijk et al.

Status: open (until 15 Jul 2021)

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Evelien van Dijk et al.

Evelien van Dijk et al.


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Short summary
A double volcanic eruption in 536 and 540 AD caused one of the coldest decades during the last 2000 years. We analyze new climate model simulations from that period. We found a cooling of up to 2 °C and a sea–ice extent up to 200 km further south. Complex interactions between sea–ice and ocean circulation lead to a reduction in the northward ocean heat transport, which makes the sea-ice extend further south, which in turn leads to a surface cooling up to 20 years after the eruptions.