Journal cover Journal topic
Climate of the Past An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
Clim. Past, 12, 2107-2126, 2016
© Author(s) 2016. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
01 Dec 2016
The 1430s: a cold period of extraordinary internal climate variability during the early Spörer Minimum with social and economic impacts in north-western and central Europe
Chantal Camenisch1,2, Kathrin M. Keller1,3, Melanie Salvisberg1,2, Benjamin Amann1,4,5, Martin Bauch6, Sandro Blumer1,3, Rudolf Brázdil7,8, Stefan Brönnimann1,4, Ulf Büntgen1,8,9, Bruce M. S. Campbell10, Laura Fernández-Donado11, Dominik Fleitmann12, Rüdiger Glaser13, Fidel González-Rouco11, Martin Grosjean1,4, Richard C. Hoffmann14, Heli Huhtamaa1,2,15, Fortunat Joos1,3, Andrea Kiss16, Oldřich Kotyza17, Flavio Lehner18, Jürg Luterbacher19,20, Nicolas Maughan21, Raphael Neukom1,4, Theresa Novy22, Kathleen Pribyl23, Christoph C. Raible1,3, Dirk Riemann13, Maximilian Schuh24, Philip Slavin25, Johannes P. Werner26, and Oliver Wetter1,2 1Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
2Economic, Social, and Environmental History, Institute of History, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
3Climate and Environmental Physics, Physics Institute, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
4Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
5Department of Geography and Planning, Queen's University, Kingston, ON, Canada
6German Historical Institute in Rome, Rome, Italy
7Institute of Geography, Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic
8Global Change Research Institute, Czech Academy of Sciences, Brno, Czech Republic
9Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Birmensdorf, Switzerland
10School of the Natural and Built Environment, Queen's University Belfast, Northern Ireland
11Department of Astrophysics and Atmospheric Sciences, Institute of Geosciences (UCM-CSIC), University Complutense, Madrid, Spain
12Department of Archaeology and Centre for Past Climate Change, School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science, University of Reading, Reading, UK
13Institute of Environmental Social Sciences and Geography, University of Freiburg, Germany
14Department of History, York University, Toronto, Canada
15Department of Geographical and Historical Studies, University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu, Finland
16Institute of Hydraulic Engineering and Water Resources Management, Vienna University of Technology, Vienna, Austria
17Regional Museum, Litoměřice, Czech Republic
18Climate & Global Dynamics Laboratory, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, USA
19Department of Geography, Climatology, Climate Dynamics and Climate Change, Justus Liebig University, Giessen, Germany
20Centre for International Development and Environmental Research, Justus Liebig University of Giessen, Giessen, Germany
21Institut de Mathématique, Aix-Marseille University, Marseille, France
22Historisches Seminar, Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Mainz, Germany
23University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK
24Historisches Seminar and Heidelberg Center for the Environment, University of Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany
25School of History, Rutherford College, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK
26Department of Earth Science and Bjerknes Centre of Climate Research, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway
Abstract. Changes in climate affected human societies throughout the last millennium. While European cold periods in the 17th and 18th century have been assessed in detail, earlier cold periods received much less attention due to sparse information available. New evidence from proxy archives, historical documentary sources and climate model simulations permit us to provide an interdisciplinary, systematic assessment of an exceptionally cold period in the 15th century. Our assessment includes the role of internal, unforced climate variability and external forcing in shaping extreme climatic conditions and the impacts on and responses of the medieval society in north-western and central Europe.

Climate reconstructions from a multitude of natural and anthropogenic archives indicate that the 1430s were the coldest decade in north-western and central Europe in the 15th century. This decade is characterised by cold winters and average to warm summers resulting in a strong seasonal cycle in temperature. Results from comprehensive climate models indicate consistently that these conditions occurred by chance due to the partly chaotic internal variability within the climate system. External forcing like volcanic eruptions tends to reduce simulated temperature seasonality and cannot explain the reconstructions. The strong seasonal cycle in temperature reduced food production and led to increasing food prices, a subsistence crisis and a famine in parts of Europe. Societies were not prepared to cope with failing markets and interrupted trade routes. In response to the crisis, authorities implemented numerous measures of supply policy and adaptation such as the installation of grain storage capacities to be prepared for future food production shortfalls.

Citation: Camenisch, C., Keller, K. M., Salvisberg, M., Amann, B., Bauch, M., Blumer, S., Brázdil, R., Brönnimann, S., Büntgen, U., Campbell, B. M. S., Fernández-Donado, L., Fleitmann, D., Glaser, R., González-Rouco, F., Grosjean, M., Hoffmann, R. C., Huhtamaa, H., Joos, F., Kiss, A., Kotyza, O., Lehner, F., Luterbacher, J., Maughan, N., Neukom, R., Novy, T., Pribyl, K., Raible, C. C., Riemann, D., Schuh, M., Slavin, P., Werner, J. P., and Wetter, O.: The 1430s: a cold period of extraordinary internal climate variability during the early Spörer Minimum with social and economic impacts in north-western and central Europe, Clim. Past, 12, 2107-2126,, 2016.
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Throughout the last millennium, several cold periods occurred which affected humanity. Here, we investigate an exceptionally cold decade during the 15th century. The cold conditions challenged the food production and led to increasing food prices and a famine in parts of Europe. In contrast to periods such as the “Year Without Summer” after the eruption of Tambora, these extreme climatic conditions seem to have occurred by chance and in relation to the internal variability of the climate system.
Throughout the last millennium, several cold periods occurred which affected humanity. Here, we...