Prominent role of volcanism in Common Era climate variability and human history

Ulf Büntgen, Dominique Arseneault, Étienne Boucher, Olga V. Churakova (Sidorova), Fabio Gennaretti, Alan Crivellaro, Malcolm K. Hughes, Alexander V. Kirdyanov, Lara Klippel, Paul J. Krusic, Hans W. Linderholm, Fredrik C. Ljungqvist, Josef Ludescher, Michael McCormick, Vladimir S. Myglan, Kurt Nicolussi, Alma Piermattei, Clive Oppenheimer, Frederick Reinig, Michael SiglEugene A. Vaganov, Jan Esper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Climate reconstructions for the Common Era are compromised by the paucity of annually-resolved and absolutely-dated proxy records prior to medieval times. Where reconstructions are based on combinations of different climate archive types (of varying spatiotemporal resolution, dating uncertainty, record length and predictive skill), it is challenging to estimate past amplitude ranges, disentangle the relative roles of natural and anthropogenic forcing, or probe deeper interrelationships between climate variability and human history. Here, we compile and analyse updated versions of all the existing summer temperature sensitive tree-ring width chronologies from the Northern Hemisphere that span the entire Common Era. We apply a novel ensemble approach to reconstruct extra-tropical summer temperatures from 1 to 2010 CE, and calculate uncertainties at continental to hemispheric scales. Peak warming in the 280s, 990s and 1020s, when volcanic forcing was low, was comparable to modern conditions until 2010 CE. The lowest June–August temperature anomaly in 536 not only marks the beginning of the coldest decade, but also defines the onset of the Late Antique Little Ice Age (LALIA). While prolonged warmth during Roman and medieval times roughly coincides with the tendency towards societal prosperity across much of the North Atlantic/European sector and East Asia, major episodes of volcanically-forced summer cooling often presaged widespread famines, plague outbreaks and political upheavals. Our study reveals a larger amplitude of spatially synchronized summer temperature variation during the first millennium of the Common Era than previously recognised.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number125757
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Climate reconstruction
  • Dendroclimatology
  • Human history
  • Northern Hemisphere
  • Tree-ring width
  • Volcanic eruptions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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