Climatic Change

, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp 131–152 | Cite as

The past climate and sea-ice record from Iceland, Part 1: Data to A.D. 1780

  • A. E. J. Ogilvie


A new reconstruction of the climate and sea-ice record for Iceland from medieval times to A.D. 1780 is presented, based on all available documentary sources. The importance of careful historical analysis to separate reliable from unreliable material is stressed, and these reconstructions are the first to have been produced using only reliable data. The major previous works on the subject (those of Thoroddsen, Koch, and Bergþórsson1), which all include unreliable material, are discussed. Prior to A.D. 1600 the data are not considered to be full enough to permit a quantitative interpretation. For the period A.D. 1601 to 1780 decadal temperature and sea-ice indices are given.

Although there is very little evidence for the first few centuries of settlement in Iceland (from c. 870 to c. 1170) the data suggest a fairly mild climatic period. Cold periods occurred around 1200, and at the end of the thirteenth century. The fourteenth century was very variable with a cold period in the 1350s to c. 1380. Between 1430 and c. 1560 there are very few contemporary sources and it is difficult to draw any conclusions on the climate during this time. The latter part of the sixteenth century was undoubtedly cold. From 1601 there are sufficient data to permit a decade by decade analysis. This shows a mild period between 1640 and 1670, and severe decades in the 1630s, 1690s, 1740s, and 1750s. Year to year and decade to decade variability is appreciable. The correlation between temperature and sea ice is not perfect but is still quite strong (similar to today). Because data have been gathered from different regions of Iceland it has been possible to demonstrate the spatial variability of Iceland's climate during the period 1601 to 1780. For example, during 1660 to 1700 there was a cooling in the north and west but warming in the south. The 1690s, the coldest decade of the Little Ice Age in Europe, was extremely cold in the west of Iceland, but less severe elsewhere.

  1. 1.

    In Icelandic personal and place names the Icelandic characters þ and ð are retained throughout. (‘þP’ is pronounced like the th sound in ‘thimble’ and ‘ð’ like th in ‘clothe’). In cases where names have been anglicized in published sources, the Icelandic version is given here.


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Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. E. J. Ogilvie
    • 1
  1. 1.Climatic Research UnitUniversity of East AngliaNorwichU.K.

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