Climatic, weather, and socio-economic conditions corresponding to the mid-17th-century eruption cluster

Stoffel, Markus; Corona, Christophe; Ludlow, Francis; Sigl, Michael; Huhtamaa, Heli; Garnier, Emmanuel; Helama, Samuli; Guillet, Sébastien; Crampsie, Arlene; Kleemann, Katrin; Camenisch, Chantal; McConnell, Joseph; Gao, Chaochao (2022). Climatic, weather, and socio-economic conditions corresponding to the mid-17th-century eruption cluster. Climate of the past, 18(5), pp. 1083-1108. Copernicus Publications 10.5194/cp-18-1083-2022

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The mid-17th century is characterized by a cluster of explosive volcanic eruptions in the 1630s and 1640s, climatic conditions culminating in the Maunder Minimum as well as political instability and famine in regions of Western and Northern Europe as well as China and Japan. This contribution investigates the sources of the eruptions of the 1630s and 1640s and their possible impact on contemporary climate using ice-core, tree-ring and historical evidence, but will also look into the socio-political context in which they occurred and the human responses they may have triggered. Three distinct sulfur peaks are found in the Greenland ice core record in 1637, 1641-42 and 1646. In Antarctica, only one unambiguous sulfate spike is recorded, peaking in 1642. The resulting bipolar sulfur peak in 1641-1642 can likely be ascribed to the eruption of Mount Parker (6°N, Philippines) on December 26, 1640, but sulfate emitted from Koma-ga-take (42°N, Japan) volcano on July 31, 1641, has potentially also contributed to the sulphate concentrations observed in Greenland at this time. The smaller peaks in 1637 and 1646 can be potentially attributed to the eruptions of Hekla (63°N, Iceland) and Shiveluch (56°N, Russia), respectively. To date, however, none of the candidate volcanoes for the mid-17th century sulphate peaks have been confirmed with tephra preserved in ice cores. Tree-ring and written sources point to cold conditions in the late 1630s and early 1640s in various parts of Europe, and to poor harvests. Yet the early 17th century was also characterized by widespread warfare across Europe – and in particular the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) – rendering any attribution of socio-economic crisis to volcanism challenging. In China and Japan, historical sources point to extreme droughts and famines starting in 1638 (China) and 1640 (Japan), thereby preceding the eruptions of Koma-ga-take (July 31, 1640) and Mount Parker (January 4, 1641). The case of the eruption cluster between 1637 and 1646 and the climatic and societal conditions recorded in its aftermath thus offer a textbook example of difficulties in (i) unambiguously distinguishing volcanically induced cooling, wetting or drying from natural climate variability, and (ii) attributing political instability, harvest failure and famines solely to volcanic climatic impacts. This example shows that while the impacts of past volcanism must always be studied within the contemporary socio-economic contexts, it is also time to move past reductive framings and sometimes reactionary oppositional stances in which climate (and environment more broadly) either is or is not deemed an important contributor to major historical events.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of History > Economic, Social and Environmental History
08 Faculty of Science > Physics Institute > Climate and Environmental Physics
10 Strategic Research Centers > Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)

UniBE Contributor:

Sigl, Michael, Huhtamaa, Heli, Camenisch, Chantal Eva Maria


500 Science > 570 Life sciences; biology
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
500 Science > 530 Physics
500 Science > 540 Chemistry
500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology
900 History > 940 History of Europe
900 History > 950 History of Asia




Copernicus Publications


[18] European Research Council


[1314] Timing of Holocene volcanic eruptions and their radiative aerosol forcing




Michael Sigl

Date Deposited:

24 May 2022 10:10

Last Modified:

16 Mar 2023 23:26

Publisher DOI:





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