22 Mar 2022
22 Mar 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal CP.

Climate and society impacts in Scandinavia following the 536/540 CE volcanic double event

Evelien van Dijk1, Ingar Mørkestøl Gundersen2, Anna de Bode3, Helge Høeg2, Kjetil Loftsgarden2, Frode Iversen2, Claudia Timmreck4, Johann Jungclaus4, and Kirstin Krüger1 Evelien van Dijk et al.
  • 1Department of Geosciences, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
  • 2Museum of cultural history, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
  • 3Department of Geography, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway
  • 4Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg, Germany

Abstract. In the Northern Hemisphere, the mid-6th century was one of the coldest periods of the last 2000 years, as indicated by both proxy records and Earth System Model (ESM) simulations. This cold period was initiated by volcanic eruptions in 536 CE and 540 CE. Evidence from historical sources, archaeological findings, and proxy records suggests that the extent and severity of this volcanic induced cooling was spatially heterogeneous and that the effect on society resulted in adaptation and resilience at some locations, whereas social crisis has been indicated at others. Here, we study the effect of the volcanic double event in 536 CE and 540 CE on the climate and society in Scandinavia with a special focus on Southern Norway. Using an ensemble of Max Planck Institute ESM transient simulations for 521–680 CE, the temperature, precipitation and atmospheric circulation patterns are studied. The simulated cooling magnitude is then used as input for the growing degree day (GDD) model set-up for Southern Norway. This GDD model indicates the possible effects on agriculture for three different study areas in Southern Norway, representative of typical meteorological and landscape conditions. Pollen from bogs and archaeological records inside the study area are then analysed at high resolution (1–3 cm sample intervals) to give insights into the validity of the GDD model set-up with regard to the volcanic climate impact on the regional scale, and to link the different types of data sets.

After the 536/540 CE double event, a maximum surface air cooling of up to 3.5 °C during the mean growing season is simulated regionally in Southern Norway. With a worst-case scenario cooling of 3 °C, the GDD model indicates crop failures were likely in our northernmost and western study areas, while crops were more likely to mature in the southeastern study area. These results are in agreement with the pollen records from the respective areas. During the sixth century, excavations show an abandonment of farms, severe social impact but also a continuation of occupation or a mix of those. In addition, archaeological findings from one of the excavation sites suggest wetter conditions for the mid-sixth century in Scandinavia, as simulated by individual ensemble members. Finally, we discuss the likely climate and societal impacts of the 536/540 CE volcanic double event by synthesising the new and available data sets for the whole Scandinavia.

Evelien van Dijk et al.

Status: open (until 31 May 2022)

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  • RC1: 'Comment on cp-2022-23', Felix Riede, 11 May 2022 reply

Evelien van Dijk et al.

Evelien van Dijk et al.


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Short summary
The mid-6th century was one of the coldest periods of the last 2000 years as characterized by great societal changes. Here, we study the effect of the volcanic double event in 536 CE and 540 CE on climate and society in Southern Norway. The combined climate and growing degree day models, high resolution pollen and archaeological records reveal that the northern and western sites are vulnerable to crop failure with possible abandonment of farms, whereas the southeastern site is more resilient.