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Climatic and societal impacts of a volcanic double event at the dawn of the Middle Ages
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Volcanic activity in and around the year 536 CE led to severe cold and famine, and has been speculatively linked to large-scale societal crises around the globe. Using a coupled aerosol-climate model, with eruption parameters constrained by recently re-dated ice core records and historical observations of the aerosol cloud, we reconstruct the radiative forcing resulting from a sequence of two major volcanic eruptions in 536 and 540 CE. We estimate that the decadal-scale Northern Hemisphere (NH) extra-tropical radiative forcing from this volcanic "double event" was larger than that of any period in existing reconstructions of the last 1200 years. Earth system model simulations including the volcanic forcing show peak NH mean temperature anomalies reaching more than -2 A degrees C, and show agreement with the limited number of available maximum latewood density temperature reconstructions. The simulations also produce decadal-scale anomalies of Arctic sea ice. The simulated cooling is interpreted in terms of probable impacts on agricultural production in Europe, and implies a high likelihood of multiple years of significant decreases in crop production across Scandinavia, supporting the theory of a connection between the 536 and 540 eruptions and evidence of societal crisis dated to the mid-6th century.
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