Centre for Medieval Studies Lecture Series 2016–2017

Astrid Ogilvie

Sagas and Science

Documentary Evidence of Changes in Climate and Sea-Ice Incidence in Iceland from the Settlement to the late 1800s

Thursday, March 9, 2017, at 16.30
Oddi 101

Astrid Ogilvie

Iceland is well known for its rich literary tradition that includes a wealth of historical records containing accounts of climate and weather. In this presentation, some of these sources will be described and evaluated, and the information gathered from them will be used to cast light on variations in the climate of Iceland over the last 1000 years or so. Prior to AD 1600 the data are fairly sporadic, but after that time it is possible to re-construct temperature and sea-ice indices. A scrutiny of the sources indicates that there has been a great deal of climatic variability from early settlement times to the present day. From ca. 1640 to ca. 1680 there appears to have been little sea ice off Iceland’s coasts. During the period 1600 to 1850, the decades with most ice present were probably the 1780s, early 1800s and the 1830s. From 1840 to 1855 there was virtually no ice off the coasts. From that time to 1860 there was frequent ice again, although the incidence does not seem to have been as heavy as in the earlier part of the century. Further clusters of sea-ice years occurred again from ca. 1864 to 1872. Several very heavy sea-ice years occurred during the 1880s. From 1900 onwards sea-ice incidence falls off dramatically. As regards temperature variations, a cooling trend may be seen around the beginning and end of the seventeenth century. However, these periods are separated by a mild period from ca. 1640 to 1670. The early decades of the 1700s were relatively mild in comparison with the very cold 1690s, 1730s, 1740s and 1750s. The 1760s and 1770s show a return to a milder regime in comparison. The 1780s are likely to have been the coldest decade of the century, but this was compounded by volcanic activity. The 1801s, 1830s and 1880s were also comparatively cold.

Astrid Ogilvie’s PhD thesis was on climate and society in Iceland. Her current research includes both climate history and current Arctic issues. She was the 2014 Nansen Professor of Arctic Studies at the University of Akureyri. She is a Senior Scientist at the Stefansson Arctic Institute in Akureyri and a Fellow of Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) at the University of Colorado.

The talk will be delivered in English. All are welcome to attend.