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Columbus Blamed For Mini Ice Age 420

Posted by samzenpus
from the bringing-the-cold dept.
DesScorp writes "Science News reports on a story which blames a centuries long cooling of Europe on the discovery of the new world. Scientists contend that the native depopulation and deforestation had a chilling effect on world-wide climate. 'Trees that filled in this territory pulled billions of tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, diminishing the heat-trapping capacity of the atmosphere and cooling climate, says Richard Nevle, a geochemist at Stanford University.' The story notes that the pandemics in the Americas were possibly an example of human climate manipulation predating the Industrial Revolution, though isotope measurements used during research have much uncertainty, so 'that evidence isn't conclusive.'"
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Columbus Blamed For Mini Ice Age

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  • Summary is incorrect (Score:5, Informative)

    by Matchstick (94940) on Friday October 14, 2011 @05:30AM (#37711630)

    It should say "the native depopulation and consequent re-forestation" rather than "native depopulation and deforestation". In current models, it doesn't make sense that deforestation leads to cooling.

    • I was noticing that. the summary contradicts itself. It says that the discovery caused cooling, then says that the trees reduce carbon, which reduces the heat trapping of the atmosphere. If the trees where removed and burned, increasing carbon, would not there be a warming effect from the increased heat trapping? Bad summary i suspect, but it still does not make sense to me.
      • by necro81 (917438) on Friday October 14, 2011 @08:23AM (#37712484) Journal

        If the trees where removed and burned

        A lot of the trees were not simply burned: they were used as lumber. Remember that by this point there was practically no virgin forest left in all of Europe, so finding a 20-50 m tall tree to use as the mainmast of a ship was difficult. And once you'd found the main mast, you still needed tremendous amounts of lumber for the rest of the ship. Mahogany and other tropical woods were highly valued for furniture; temperate hardwoods like oak and maple had uses for barrels, crates, and floors. (It is telling that, despite huge amounts of such woods in New England, the typical home was constructed and clad with conifers - spruce, pine, and cedar - because the hardwoods were in such demand and thus expensive.)

        The general effect of this activity is to consume the forests, but not in a way that released a whole lot of carbon. Some of that carbon was eventually released (fires on ships was quite common) but plenty of it was sequestered at the bottom of the ocean (sinkings were also quite common).

      • by dogmatixpsych (786818) on Friday October 14, 2011 @09:47AM (#37713234) Homepage Journal
        There were millions and millions of Native Americans here. The Native Americans died en masse due to disease; this disease spread quickly and advanced way ahead of the Europeans. By the time Europeans got to most areas of the Americas, native populations were reduced by as much as 90% (Source: http://www.amazon.com/1491-Revelations-Americas-Before-Columbus/dp/140004006X [amazon.com]). Due to the losses in Native American populations (who did not just live "harmoniously" with nature like people are taught in school - they clear cut trees, redirected rivers, and did many things not that different from what we do today) the native management of the environment was disrupted. All the trees that they had cleared out started growing back. Increase trees-->decrease carbon-->decrease heat.

        I'm not saying I think the research is sound - I have no idea, I haven't read the study - but the hypothesis is not far-fetched. The /. summary is confusing though.
    • Old growth forests don't capture as much carbon as new growth. Cut down a stand of 1000 year old trees and let them repopulate with all new trees and the new trees will capture carbon faster as they grow and add mass at a faster rate than the maxed out trees, while the old wood retains its carbon in the form of ships, buildings, tools, etc.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by CAIMLAS (41445)

      You're incorrect. The current model is roughly the same as the one from 10, 20, 30 years ago (and probably longer): we humans are not only capable but fully responsible for whatever disaster befalls us through way of the earth's climatic changes, and OMGTHESKYISFALLING.

      The general theme is, "I don't know what causes it, but man - specifically, the white man - is responsible for all bad in the world". Global warming? Climate change? Global cooling? Regional desertification? IT's the evil West, the White Man,

  • by maxwell demon (590494) on Friday October 14, 2011 @05:36AM (#37711660) Journal

    If this theory is right, I think a similar effect should have occurred after the black death in Europe. Does anyone know if it got colder at that time?

  • Do the majority of US citizens still believe Columbus discovered America in 1492?

    Basically, I guess it's just a crap headline to draw the audience in? The article itself indicates that a mini ice age looks to have been *delayed* by European invasion, by wiping out the local population (both on purpose and accidently), they created a carbon sink of trees growing up in deforested areas, which they them later cut down. So I guess after a while the landscape looked closer to how it had been before the Europeans

    • by HBI (604924)

      Short of briefly mentioning Leif Ericsson, yes, they do. That's all they'll learn in school. Confirmed with my 17yo and 14yo within the last few years, 2 different school systems, different states (MD and NJ).

      • crickey, some way to go on improving the history curriculum then! Does history teaching start with the Europeans coming to the USA, or do they do go through earlier civilisations first?

        Old stuff was always the most fun stuff for us here in the UK :-) loads of Celts and Romans and Saxons and Vikings charging round the place, invading and setting fire to things. A few fine castles and a couple more invasions then it all settles down to pretty boring political and social history by the renaissance... ;-) (I th

        • by HBI (604924)

          They do a quick runthrough of the Clovis concept. They avoid the extinctions and don't permit much in the way of discussion about the various theories (ice free corridor? Boats?) and don't allow any potential pre-Clovis to leak into the discussion. The signs of pre-Columbian contact are similarly edited out, the first contact was Leif who stayed for a winter, and then Columbus.

          I feel for authors of history books, after reading "Lies My Teacher Told Me", but things haven't gotten much better in the 15 or

      • Christopher Columbus - A wonderful national hero - Hawked his widely discredited and since proven wrong theory (short route to China) around all the people with money to fund his project for years until he found someone gullible enough to fund it, found a small island in mid ocean, and claimed he was right, even in face of the evidence, failed to find the whole rest of the continent, and still gets all the credit ...

        • by HBI (604924)

          You left out the genocide he was directly responsible for, according to Las Casas and other commentators of the time.

    • Forgive me for being a bit undereducated on this point, but in what way is Columbus not hugely significant in the European discovery of the Americas? Sure, there's L'Anse aux Meadows, and I've heard (though never actually read) that fishermen had discovered the Grand Banks and traded with Newfoundland, etc. But none of those were publicized and none kicked off larger rounds of exploration and colonization, so it's a bit like saying that James Watt invented the steam engine. He didn't, but he made it a lot b
    • by msauve (701917)
      "Do the majority of US citizens still believe Columbus discovered America in 1492?"

      Are you saying he didn't get to America? Or, he didn't in 1492? Or, he already knew about America, so it wasn't a discovery?

      That Columbus discovered the Americas doesn't imply that he was the first to discover the Americas. The first to discover the Americas were very likely Asian, and were already here (now called native Americans) by the time any known Europeans arrived.

      Since you don't know, and are asking, the fascinati
      • There is evidence there was also a European migration into North America, though their contribution to the gene pool may have been not incredibly significant. Anthropologists have found tools from the west coast and east coast of North America, and have found that the west coast tools were based on Asian designs, and oddly enough, the east coast designs bared remarkable similarity to some European group's tools. There was an ice bridge between Europe and North America that people living like Eskimos could h
    • Columbus is the first recorded traveller to America.

      Lots of facts points to previous knowledge:

      IMHO, Americo Vespuccio (the man who realized that those lands were not Asia) should deserve more

  • Well we have an easy solution to global warming then. Just depopulate America again.
    • by Chrisq (894406)

      Well we have an easy solution to global warming then. Just depopulate America again.

      I know there are moral issues here, but I think these could be resolved by Harry Hill. I can just picture him now saying

      I like Americans. I also like trees. Now which is best ....

    • Well we have an easy solution to global warming then. Just depopulate America again.

      America isn't the only potential candidate here... areas nearer to the equator will have a more dramatic effect since the vegetation will regrow faster. Putting an end to Brazilian cattle production would be a bigger effect than neutron bombing all of rural U.S.A.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year_Without_a_Summer [wikipedia.org]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1815_eruption_of_Mount_Tambora [wikipedia.org]

    Earlier midmillenial cool downs were due to a volcano in Iceland and other solar minimums as well.

    Look, I'm infuriated by climate change denying morons myself, but rewriting history and ignoring basic science is not how you defeat those losers. Simple repetition of obvious scientific facts about man made warming is how you defeat oil and coal industry propaganda kool aid drinkers, not reimaging the plot of "Avatar."

    • I'm infuriated by climate change denying morons myself, but rewriting history and ignoring basic science is not how you defeat those losers.

      No, but slinging a little of their own style of rhetoric back their way once in awhile does keep them inline better than always, predictably, maintaining the scientific moral high ground. The Scopes monkey trial went so badly in part because the scientific representative just couldn't think outside of his world of solid scientific proof as the final word. I had a similar experience in traffic court when the officer opened with a reading of his notebook which contained a full accounting of what he imagined

    • by gr8_phk (621180)

      Simple repetition of obvious scientific facts about man made warming is how you defeat oil and coal industry propaganda kool aid drinkers

      What are the "obvious scientific facts" exactly? No really, I'm asking for sources that aren't controversial or debunked.

  • by brillow (917507) on Friday October 14, 2011 @06:43AM (#37711964)

    As stated the summary is nonsensical. It says the massive deforestation caused more carbon to be pulled from the atmosphere and reduced the earth's cooling. This makes no sense.

    Reading the article, its actually massive reforestation which was caused by all the suddenly depopulated native human fields and cities.

    It's still absurd though. Historical questions should be avoided in the hard sciences. It's easy to make up stories to explain trends in data, especially when they can't be experimentally validated.

    • by alexibu (1071218)
      I disagree - all science that relies on evidence is by definition historical.
      It's a theory - we can look for evidence that supports it or disproves it, it doesn't make sense to just discount it because it is in the past.

      Another line of evidence that would support such a theory:
      It appears that there is historical evidence of large agricultural civilizations living in the Amazon basin before contact with European diseases and them all disappearing a short time after. This guy was the first European to sai
    • "It's easy to make up stories to explain trends in data, especially when they can't be experimentally validated." Welcome to the world of science. There are very few sciences that have that level of control over experiments. Your criticism could work for anything from environmental science to evolutionary science (and much of biology) to climatology to geology to psychology to much of physics (particularly theoretical, which is doubly interesting because I know some physicists who believe it is the only rea
  • I thought that during this period, one of the major sources of lighting came from whale oil and increased as colonies formed in places where whales were abundant. If reforestation on such a small scale affected the environment so dramatically, then surely so would increased CO2 release from the energy required in the progression of imperialism?

    I think these theories are simply too human-centric.
  • Leif Ericson made it to America some 500 years before Christopher Columbus.

    • by msauve (701917)
      The Asians made it to America some 20,000 years before Leif Ericson. Both the Asians and Columbus resulted in successful settlement. What's your point?
  • When the Europeans got to the new world they cut down more trees than ever! If there had been reforestation, where are those forests?
    • by coolmoose25 (1057210) on Friday October 14, 2011 @09:56AM (#37713328)
      I live amongst them, along with millions of other people. Here in New England, the history is this: Prior to European settlement, 75% of the land was covered in trees. The Europeans showed up, cut down the forests and made farms of the land. At this point, roughly 25% of New England was forested, the other 75% was largely farms. Later, the farmers moved to the mid west and west, abandoning the farms in New England, which were a bitch to farm because of the rocky soil. The farms were abandoned and trees grew up in their place. That's why you can hike through forests in New England and find old foundations and very long lines of stone walls in the middle of nowhere. Back in the day, those forests were "somewhere." Even with our "sprawl" in New England, roughly 75% of the land is forested. I can attest to this as I live in a forested burb. Deer, turkeys, foxes, etc. routinely walk through my yard. Don't believe me? Then just pull up http://maps.google.com/ [google.com] and search on New England. Then look for deforested land... if you do the visual math, you'll see that it is mostly still forested here.
  • by hackertourist (2202674) <hackertourist @ x msnet.nl> on Friday October 14, 2011 @08:35AM (#37712584)

    Sceptics of Columbus' plan were on record as saying 'Sure you'll be able to sail around the world, when hell freezes over'. He proved them wrong (sort of), and hey presto! Ice age. Coincidence? I think not!

    • Yes, the heat of hell warms this planet. Currently we are undergoing a "warming period" due to the increased industrial output of hell.
  • A story that colonization by European white men may have cause climate change?

    Whether or not this turns out to be correct, it's gonna whip the denialists into a frenzy!

  • Kinda validates the Pirates > Global Warming connection...

  • The ironic part about this is that the Little Ice Age is actually blamed for killing off the earliest European settlement in the Western Hemisphere.

    The Norse had a settlement in Greenland for almost half a millenium (from 986 AD to sometime in the 1400s), and during their better times were in contact with mainland North America ("Vinland"). As the weather turned colder, things became tougher for the Norse livestock agriculture, and better for the Inuit hunting culture. The last records we have show incres

  • The idea that the global climate could be changed by a relative handful of europeans clearing a tiny portion of the forested landscape with handsaws and horses is ridiculous. The Oort minimum began approximately 1,000 years ago, followed by the Wolf minimum (740 years ago), the Sporer minimum (600 years ago), and then the Maunder minimum approximately 400 years ago. Columbus set sail in 1492 so those europeans would have had to have been working like beavers (pardon the expression) to have cut down enough

    • by MuValas (91840)

      Not only did you not read the article, you haven't even read any of the posts about the article clarifying things.

      It goes like this:
      1. European Explorers get to America
      2. Disease wipes out tens of millions of natives
      3. Forests that the natives were cultivating grow back
      4. Carbon sucked out of the atmosphere in massive reforestation.

    • Per the article, that's not what happened.

      Pre-Columbus, the Native population of the Americas was many, many times larger than most people imagine - on the order of 80 million people. This population actively cleared land via slash-and-burn agriculture and generally comported themselves the way humans do (contrary to the popular imagination of Avatar-esque tiny populations living in perfect harmony with nature)

      When Columbus made contact, he passed on smallpox and diptheria, and the subsequent wave of epidem

  • Coincidentally with the coldest part of the mini ice age was the "Maunder minimum" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maunder_Minimum [wikipedia.org] which was a period of very low sunspot activity. It is speculated that the two may have a common cause: variable solar radiance.

  • QED (Score:4, Funny)

    by argStyopa (232550) on Friday October 14, 2011 @11:02AM (#37714102) Journal

    Let me see if I understand the logic:

    Indians deforested continent.
    Columbus comes.
    Indians die.
    Forests grow back.
    Temperature plummets.
    Little Ice Age appears.

    The only logical conclusion is that we're supposed to start slaughtering indigenous peoples again?

    I mean, sure, if science says we have to.

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