The Climate Downturn of 536–50

  • Timothy P. Newfield


This chapter surveys the evolution of research on the 536–50 CE climatic downturn and its human impacts. It presents the written evidence for atmospheric anomalies over the Mediterranean alongside the ever-growing wealth of relevant ice core and tree ring scholarship, and it highlights changes in reconstruction and interpretation as scholars reworked old evidence and injected new data. Judgments about the downturn’s historical significance in multiple world regions are discussed but not assessed in depth. In line with current evidence, the chapter concludes that the anomaly was a discontinuous complex of phenomena whose effects were extreme but varied across space and time. A cluster of very large volcanic eruptions triggered exceptional cooling and possibly drought across several parts of the globe. This was not a “536 event” or a “mystery cloud” of 12 or 18 months’ duration. It was a decade and a half of marked cold, with troughs in summer temperatures around 536, 540–1, and 545–6.


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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Timothy P. Newfield
    • 1
  1. 1.Departments of History and BiologyGeorgetown UniversityWashington, DCUSA

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