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Hunters in the Snow by Pieter Breughel. Breughel captured the long winters of the Little Ice Age in this 1565 painting.
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Caspar Ammann

The Little Ice Age

From about 1250 to 1850 temperatures were a bit colder than usual in most parts of the world. This time is called the Little Ice Age.

During the Little Ice Age, the average temperature of the planet was about a degree Celsius cooler than it is today (thatís 2-3 degrees Fahrenheit). Scientists think that the planet was cooler because there was less solar activity and more erupting volcanoes. The Little Ice Age was not a true ice age because it did not get cold enough for long enough to cause ice sheets to grow larger. The cooling likely affected areas around the world but we have the most records of how it changed daily life from Europe. Listed below were some of the things we know happened during the Little Ice Age.

  • Fur trappers reported that southern Hudson Bay remained frozen for about 3 weeks longer each spring.
  • Fishermen reported large amounts of sea ice floating in the North Atlantic.
  • British people saw Eskimos paddling canoes off the coast of England.
  • Alpine (mountain) glaciers grew larger.
  • Winters were longer and growing seasons shorter according to tree ring data and records of cherry tree flowering.
  • Wet weather caused disease that affected people, animals and crops including the plague. The plague is also called the Black Death. It was a disease that killed more than a third of Europeans.
  • Because farmers couldnít grow food, people went hungry in areas of northern and Eastern Europe. Unlike today, there was no way to transport food from far away.
Last modified June 20, 2008 by Lisa Gardiner.

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