Extreme weather events of 535–536

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The extreme weather events of 535–536 were the most severe and protracted short-term episodes of cooling in the Northern Hemisphere in the last 2,000 years.[1] The event is thought to have been caused by an extensive atmospheric dust veil, possibly resulting from a large volcanic eruption in the tropics,[2] and/or debris from space impacting the Earth.[3] Its effects were widespread, causing unseasonal weather, crop failures, and famines worldwide.[3]

Documentary evidence[edit]

The Byzantine historian Procopius recorded of 536, in his report on the wars with the Vandals, "during this year a most dread portent took place. For the sun gave forth its light without brightness... and it seemed exceedingly like the sun in eclipse, for the beams it shed were not clear."[4][5]

The Gaelic Irish Annals[6][7][8] record the following:

Further phenomena reported by a number of independent contemporary sources:

  • Low temperatures, even snow during the summer (snow reportedly fell in August in China, which caused the harvest there to be delayed)[9]
  • Crop failures[10]
  • "A dense, dry fog" in the Middle East, China, and Europe[9]
  • Drought in Peru, which affected the Moche culture[9][11]

Scientific evidence[edit]

Tree ring analysis by dendrochronologist Mike Baillie, of the Queen's University of Belfast, shows abnormally little growth in Irish oak in 536 and another sharp drop in 542, after a partial recovery.[12] Similar patterns are recorded in tree rings from Sweden and Finland, in California's Sierra Nevada and in rings from Chilean Fitzroya trees.[citation needed] Ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica show evidence of substantial sulfate deposits around 533–534 ± 2 years, evidence of an extensive acidic dust veil.[2]

Possible explanations[edit]

It has been conjectured that these changes were due to ashes or dust thrown into the air after the eruption of a volcano (a phenomenon known as "volcanic winter"),[13] or after the impact of a comet[14] or meteorite.[15][16] The evidence of sulfate deposits in ice cores strongly supports the volcano hypothesis; the sulfate spike is even more intense than that which accompanied the lesser episode of climatic aberration in 1816, popularly known as the "Year Without a Summer", which has been connected to the explosion of the volcano Mount Tambora in Sumbawa, Indonesia.[2]

In 1984, R. B. Stothers postulated that this event might have been caused by the volcano Rabaul in what is now New Britain island near Papua New Guinea.[17]

In 1999, David Keys in his book Catastrophe: A Quest for the Origins of the Modern World (supported by work of the American volcanologist Ken Wohletz), suggested that the Indonesian volcano Krakatoa exploded at the time and caused the changes.[13] It is suggested that an eruption of Krakatoa attributed to the year 416 by the Javanese Book of Kings actually took place at this time, 535-536, there being no other evidence of such an eruption in 416.[18]

In 2009, Dallas Abbott of Columbia University's Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory in New York published evidence from Greenland ice cores that multiple comet impacts caused the haze. The spherules found in the ice may originate from terrestrial debris ejected into the atmosphere by an impact event.[1][19]

In 2010, Robert Dull, John Southon and colleagues presented evidence suggesting a link between the Tierra Blanca Joven (TBJ) eruption of the Ilopango caldera in central El Salvador and the AD 536 event.[20] Although earlier published radiocarbon evidence suggested a two-sigma age range of AD 408–536,[21] which is consistent with the global climate downturn, the connection between AD 536 and Ilopango was not explicitly made until research on Central American Pacific margin marine sediment cores by Steffen Kutterolf and colleagues showed that the phreatoplinian TBJ eruption was much larger than previously thought.[22] The radioactive carbon-14 in successive growth increments of a single tree that had been killed by a TBJ pyroclastic flow was measured in detail using Accelerator mass spectrometry; the results supported the date of AD 535 as the year in which the tree died. A conservative bulk tephra volume for the TBJ event of ~84 km3 was calculated, indicating a large Volcanic Explosivity Index 6+ event and a magnitude of 6.9. The results suggest that the Ilopango TBJ eruption size, latitude and age are consistent with the ice core sulphate records of Larsen et al. 2008.

Historic consequences[edit]

The 536 event and ensuing famine have been suggested as an explanation for the deposition of hoards of gold by Scandinavian elites at the end of the Migration Period. The gold may have been deposited as a sacrifice to appease the gods and get the sunlight back.[23][24]

The decline of Teotihuacán, a huge city in Mesoamerica, is also correlated with the droughts related to the climate changes, with signs of civil unrest and famines.

David Keys' book speculates that the climate changes may have contributed to various developments, such as the emergence of the Plague of Justinian, the decline of the Avars, the migration of Mongolian tribes towards the West, the end of the Sassanid Empire, the collapse of the Gupta Empire, the rise of Islam, the expansion of Turkic tribes, and the fall of Teotihuacán.[11] In 2000, a 3BM Television production (for WNET and Channel Four) capitalized upon Keys' book. This documentary, under the name Catastrophe! How the World Changed, was broadcast in the US as part of PBS's Secrets of the Dead series. However, Keys and Wohletz' ideas are not widely accepted at this point. Reviewing Keys' book, the British archaeologist Ken Dark commented that "much of the apparent evidence presented in the book is highly debatable, based on poor sources or simply incorrect" and that "Nonetheless, both the global scope and the emphasis on the 6th century AD as a time of wide-ranging change are commendable, and the book contains some fascinating and obscure information which will be new to many. However, it fails to demonstrate its central thesis and does not offer a convincing explanation for the many changes discussed."[25]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Abbott, D. H.; Biscaye, P.; Cole-Dai, J.; Breger, D.; Biscaye; Cole-Dai; Breger (December 2008). "Magnetite and Silicate Spherules from the GISP2 Core at the 536 A.D. Horizon". "American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2008". AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts 41: 1454. Bibcode:2008AGUFMPP41B1454A. Abstract #PP41B-1454. 
  2. ^ a b c Larsen, L. B.; Vinther, B. M.; Briffa, K. R.; Melvin, T. M.; Clausen, H. B.; Jones, P. D.; Siggaard-Andersen, M.-L.; Hammer, C. U. et al. (2008). "New ice core evidence for a volcanic cause of the A.D. 536 dust veil". Geophys. Res. Lett. 35 (4): L04708. Bibcode:2008GeoRL..3504708L. doi:10.1029/2007GL032450. 
  3. ^ a b Than, Ker (3 January 2009). "Slam dunks from space led to hazy shade of winter". New Scientist 201 (2689): 9. Bibcode:2009NewSc.201....9P. doi:10.1016/S0262-4079(09)60069-5. 
  4. ^ Ochoa, George; Jennifer Hoffman; Tina Tin (2005). Climate: the force that shapes our world and the future of life on earth. Emmaus, PA: Rodale. ISBN 1-59486-288-5. , gives this quote as "The Sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon during this whole year, and it seemed exceedingly like the Sun in eclipse".
  5. ^ Procopius. History of the Wars, Books III and IV: The Vandalic War. Dewing H.B. ISBN 1-4346-0550-7. 
  6. ^ Gaelic Irish Annals translations
  7. ^ Documents of Ireland
  8. ^ The Annals of the Four Masters
  9. ^ a b c Ochoa, George; Jennifer Hoffman; Tina Tin (2005). Climate: the force that shapes our world and the future of life on earth. Emmaus, PA: Rodale. p. 71. ISBN 1-59486-288-5. 
  10. ^ Rosen, William (2007). Justinian's flea: Plague, Empire and the Birth of Europe. London: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 0-224-07369-9. 
  11. ^ a b Keys, David Patrick (2000). Catastrophe: an investigation into the origins of the modern world. New York: Ballantine Pub. ISBN 0-345-40876-4. 
  12. ^ Baillie, M.G.L. (1994). "Dendrochronology Raises Questions About the Nature of the AD 536 Dust-Veil Event." The Holocene fig. 3 p. 215.
  13. ^ a b Wohletz, Ken, Were the Dark Ages Triggered by Volcano-Related Climate Changes in the 6th Century?
  14. ^ MacIntyre, Ferren (2002). "Simultaneous Settlement of Indo-Pacific Extrema?". Rapa Nui Journal 16 (2): 96–104. 
  15. ^ Baillie, M. G. L. (1999). Exodus to Arthur: Catastrophic Encounters with Comets. London: B.T. Batsford. ISBN 0-7134-8352-0. 
  16. ^ Rigby, Emma; Symonds, Melissa; Ward-Thompson, Derek (February 2004). "A comet impact in AD536?". Astronomy and Geophysics 45 (1): 1.23. Bibcode:2004A&G....45a..23R. doi:10.1046/j.1468-4004.2003.45123.x. 
  17. ^ Stothers R.B. (26 January 1984). "Mystery cloud of AD 536". Nature 307 (5949): 344–5. Bibcode:1984Natur.307..344S. doi:10.1038/307344a0. 
  18. ^ Keys (2000), page 385
  19. ^ "Comet smashes triggered ancient famine". New Scientist. 7 January 2009. 
  20. ^ Dull, R., J.R. Southon, S. Kutterolf, A. Freundt, D. Wahl, P. Sheets; Southon; Kutterolf; Freundt; Wahl; Sheets (13–17 December 2010). "Did the TBJ Ilopango eruption cause the AD 536 event?". AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts 13: 2370. Bibcode:2010AGUFM.V13C2370D. 
  21. ^ Dull, R. A., Southon, J. R. & Sheets, P. (2001). "Volcanism, ecology and culture: a reassessment of the Volcán Ilopango TBJ eruption in the southern Maya realm". Latin American Antiquity 12 (1): 25–44. doi:10.2307/971755. JSTOR 971755. 
  22. ^ Kutterolf, S. A. Freundt, and W. Peréz (2008). "Pacific offshore record of plinian arc volcanism in Central America: 2. Tephra volumes and erupted masses". Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems. 9, Q02S02 (2): n/a. Bibcode:2008GGG.....902S02K. doi:10.1029/2007GC001791. 
  23. ^ Morten Axboe (2001). "Året 536". Skalk (4): 28–32. 
  24. ^ Axboe, M. (1999). "The year 536 and the Scandinavian gold hoards". Medieval archaeology 43: 186–8. 
  25. ^ Dark, Ken (November 1999). "Review of David Keys' Catastroph". British Archaeology (49). 
  26. ^ Gao, Chaochao; Robock, Alan; Self, Stephen; Witter, Jeffrey B.; J. P. Steffenson, Henrik Brink Clausen, Marie-Louise Siggaard-Andersen, Sigfus Johnsen, Paul A. Mayewski and Caspar Ammann (2006). "The 1452 or 1453 A.D. Kuwae Eruption Signal Derived from Multiple Ice Core Records: Greatest Volcanic Sulfate Event of the Past 700 Years". Journal of Geophysical Research 111 (D12107): 11. Bibcode:2006JGRD..11112107G. doi:10.1029/2005JD006710. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]