Volcanoes and the Little Ice Age: Not the Smoking Gun?
By Erik Klemetti
There is the tendency in our fast-paced world for lots and lots of articles to get written about science before anyone beyond the researchers and the reviewers actually sees the science. This is mostly thanks to the fact that press releases come out before the actual study – and who has time to read a study when there is a handy press release with all the bits? Yesterday saw an example of just this – a whole lot of “news” without a lot of assessment of the study itself.
The paper itself is called “Abrupt Onset of the Little Ice Age triggered by volcanism and sustained by sea-ice/ocean feedbacks” by Gifford Miller and a host of coauthors (mostly climatologists) in the Geophysical Research Letters. After seeing a post about it on Dot Earth, I knew that the media would eat this up and wouldn’t you know it, within hours there were dozens of articles mostly telling us what the initial press release already said … and not much else. It took a while for the PDF of the article to appear on the GRL website, but after it did, I sat down with it to see what the “smoking guns” were that they identified.
I’m not going to discuss the climate models or interpretation – more or less, they sampled moss and lake sediment in Canada and Iceland to constrain the dates of the onset of the Little Ice Age. Then, they used climate models and data about volcanic atmospheric sulfur (from Gao et al., 2008, more on this paper in a bit) to model how the atmosphere and oceans would respond and if it correlated with their ages. The long and short is they found that a large sulfur loading in the atmosphere could trigger increased sea ice that would prompt cooler global climate, thus the Little Ice Age.
Continue reading over at Wired.