Was there a 'medieval warm period', and if so, where and when?

Malcolm Hughes, Henry F. Diaz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

406 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

It has frequently been suggested that the period encompassing the ninth to the fourteenth centuries A.D. experienced a climate warmer than that prevailing around the turn of the twentieth century. This epoch has become known as the Medieval Warm Period, since it coincides with the Middle Ages in Europe. In this review a number of lines of evidence are considered, (including climatesensitive tree rings, documentary sources, and montane glaciers) in order to evaluate whether it is reasonable to conclude that climate in medieval times was, indeed, warmer than the climate of more recent times. Our review indicates that for some areas of the globe (for example, Scandinavia, China, the Sierra Nevada in California, the Canadian Rockies and Tasmania), temperatures, particularly in summer, appear to have been higher during some parts of this period than those that were to prevail until the most recent decades of the twentieth century. These warmer regional episodes were not strongly synchronous. Evidence from other regions (for example, the Southeast United States, southern Europe along the Mediterranean, and parts of South America) indicates that the climate during that time was little different to that of later times, or that warming, if it occurred, was recorded at a later time than has been assumed. Taken together, the available evidence does not support a global Medieval Warm Period, although more support for such a phenomenon could be drawn from high-elevation records than from low-elevation records. The available data exhibit significant decadal to century scale variability throughout the last millennium. A comparison of 30-year averages for various climate indices places recent decades in a longer term perspective.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)109-142
Number of pages34
JournalClimatic Change
Volume26
Issue number2-3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1994

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Medieval Warm Period
Glaciers
climate
twentieth century
documentary source
Middle Ages
Medieval
tree ring
glacier
Temperature
warming
summer
temperature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Atmospheric Science

Cite this

Was there a 'medieval warm period', and if so, where and when? / Hughes, Malcolm; Diaz, Henry F.

In: Climatic Change, Vol. 26, No. 2-3, 03.1994, p. 109-142.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Hughes, Malcolm ; Diaz, Henry F. / Was there a 'medieval warm period', and if so, where and when?. In: Climatic Change. 1994 ; Vol. 26, No. 2-3. pp. 109-142.
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