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3500 Years of West-Central European Climate History
Volume 9, Number 20: 17 May 2006

Holzhauser et al. (2005) "for the first time," in their words, present high-resolution records of variations in glacier size in the Swiss Alps together with lake-level fluctuations in the Jura mountains, the northern French Pre-Alps and the Swiss Plateau in developing a 3500-year climate history of west-central Europe, beginning with an in-depth analysis of the Great Aletsch glacier, which is the largest of all glaciers located in the European Alps.

Near the beginning of the time period studied, the three researchers report that "during the late Bronze Age Optimum from 1350 to 1250 BC, the Great Aletsch glacier was approximately 1000 m shorter than it is today," noting that "the period from 1450 to 1250 BC has been recognized as a warm-dry phase in other Alpine and Northern Hemisphere proxies (Tinner et al., 2003)." Then, after an intervening unnamed cold-wet phase, when the glacier grew in both mass and length, they say that "during the Iron/Roman Age Optimum between c. 200 BC and AD 50," which is perhaps better known as the Roman Warm Period, the glacier again retreated and "reached today's extent or was even somewhat shorter than today." Next came the Dark Ages Cold Period, which they say was followed by "the Medieval Warm Period, from around AD 800 to the onset of the Little Ice Age around AD 1300," which latter cold-wet phase was "characterized by three successive [glacier length] peaks: a first maximum after 1369 (in the late 1370s), a second between 1670 and 1680, and a third at 1859/60," following which the glacier began its latest and still-ongoing recession in 1865. In addition, they state that written documents from the fifteenth century AD indicate that at some time during that hundred-year interval "the glacier was of a size similar to that of the 1930s," which latter period in many parts of the world was as warm as, or even warmer than, it is today, in harmony with a growing body of evidence which suggests that a "Little" Medieval Warm Period manifested itself during the fifteenth century within the broader expanse of the Little Ice Age (see Little Medieval Warm Period in our Subject Index).

Data pertaining to the Gorner glacier (the second largest of the Swiss Alps) and the Lower Grindelwald glacier of the Bernese Alps tell much the same story, as Holzhauser et al. report that these glaciers and the Great Aletsch glacier "experienced nearly synchronous advances" throughout the study period.

With respect to what was responsible for the millennial-scale climatic oscillation that produced the alternating periods of cold-wet and warm-dry conditions that fostered the similarly-paced cycle of glacier growth and retreat, the Swiss and French scientists report that "glacier maximums coincided with radiocarbon peaks, i.e., periods of weaker solar activity," which in their estimation "suggests a possible solar origin of the climate oscillations punctuating the last 3500 years in west-central Europe, in agreement with previous studies (Denton and Karlen, 1973; Magny, 1993; van Geel et al., 1996; Bond et al., 2001)." And to underscore that point, they conclude their paper by stating that "a comparison between the fluctuations of the Great Aletsch glacier and the variations in the atmospheric residual 14C records supports the hypothesis that variations in solar activity were a major forcing factor of climate oscillations in west-central Europe during the late Holocene."

All we would add to these conclusions is that because the current warmth of the study region has not yet resulted in a shrinkage of the Great Aletsch glacier equivalent to what it experienced during the Bronze Age Optimum of a little over three thousand years ago, or what it experienced during the Roman Warm Period of two thousand years ago, there is nothing unusual or "unprecedented," as climate alarmists like to claim, about the region's current warmth. In addition, we note that our modern warmth is occurring at just about the time one would expect it to occur, in light of the rather consistent time intervals that have separated prior warm nodes of the millennial-scale climatic oscillation that produced them, which further suggests that our current warmth, like that of prior Holocene warm periods, is likely solar-induced, which pretty much leaves CO2 "out in the cold," as far as being responsible for twentieth-century global warming is concerned.

Sherwood, Keith and Craig Idso

References
Bond, G., Kromer, B., Beer, J., Muscheler, R., Evans, M.N., Showers, W., Hoffmann, S., Lotti-Bond, R., Hajdas, I. and Bonani, G. 2001. Persistent solar influence on North Atlantic climate during the Holocene. Science 294: 2130-2136.

Denton, G.H. and Karlen, W. 1973. Holocene climate variations - their pattern and possible cause. Quaternary Research 3: 155-205.

Holzhauser, H., Magny, M. and Zumbuhl, H.J. 2005. Glacier and lake-level variations in west-central Europe over the last 3500 years. The Holocene 15: 789-801.

Magny, M. 1993. Solar influences on Holocene climatic changes illustrated by correlations between past lake-level fluctuations and the atmospheric 14C record. Quaternary Research 40: 1-9.

Tinner, W., Lotter, A.F., Ammann, B., Condera, M., Hubschmied, P., van Leeuwan, J.F.N. and Wehrli, M. 2003. Climatic change and contemporaneous land-use phases north and south of the Alps 2300 BC to AD 800. Quaternary Science Reviews 22: 1447-1460.

van Geel, B., Buurman, J. and Waterbolk, H.T. 1996. Archaeological and palaeoecological indications of an abrupt climate change in the Netherlands and evidence for climatological teleconnections around 2650 BP. Journal of Quaternary Science 11: 451-460.