Climatic Change

, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 9–52

"Little Ice Age" Research: A Perspective from Iceland


  • A.E.J. Ogilvie
    • INSTAARUniversity of Colorado
  • T. Jónsson
    • Icelandic Meteorological Office

DOI: 10.1023/A:1005625729889

Cite this article as:
Ogilvie, A. & Jónsson, T. Climatic Change (2001) 48: 9. doi:10.1023/A:1005625729889


The development during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries of the sciences of meteorology and climatology and their subdisciplines has made possible an ever-increasing understanding of the climate of the past. In particular, the refinement of palaeoclimatic proxy data has meant that the climate of the past thousand years has begun to be extensively studied. In the context of this research, it has often been suggested that a warm epoch occurred in much of northern Europe, the north Atlantic, and other parts of the world, from around the ninth through the fourteenth centuries, and that this was followed by a decline in temperatures culminating in a "Little Ice Age" from about 1550 to 1850 (see e.g. Lamb, 1965, 1977; Flohn, 1978). The appelations "Medieval Warm Period" and "Little Ice Age" have entered the literature and are frequently used without clear definition. More recently, however, these terms have come under closer scrutiny (see, e.g. Ogilvie, 1991, 1992; Bradley and Jones, 1992; Mikami, 1992; Briffa and Jones, 1993; Bradley and Jones, 1993; Hughes and Diaz, 1994; Jones et al., 1998; Mann et al., 1999; Crowley and Lowery, 2000). As research continues into climatic fluctuations over the last 1000 to 2000 years, a pattern is emerging which suggests a far more complex picture than early research into the history of climate suggested. In this paper, the origins of the term "Little Ice Age" are considered. Because of the emphasis on the North Atlantic in this volume, the prime focus is on research that has been undertaken in this region, with a perspective on the historiography of historical climatology in Iceland as well as on the twentieth-century climate of Iceland. The phrase "Little Ice Age" has become part of the scientific and popular thinking on the climate of the past thousand years. However, as knowledge of the climate of the Holocene continues to grow, the term now seems to cloud rather than clarify thinking on the climate of the past thousand years. It is hoped that the discussion here will encourage future researchers to focus their thinking on exactly and precisely what is meant when the term "Little Ice Age" is used.

Climate VariabilityHistorical ClimatologyIceland"Little Ice Age""Medieval Warm Period"Sea Ice

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001