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Learn About the Little Ice Age for Kids

Updated on August 19, 2015

There was a time during the Middle Ages or medieval times when Northern parts of Europe experienced warmer temperatures. It was so warm wine producing grapes were grown in England. Then a period of cooling called the Little Ice Age occurred. This cooling happened between the 14th and 19th centuries.

The Little Ice Age resulted in extremely cold winters in many areas of the world. Drastically colder winters led to food shortages. As an example, in the Netherlands, glaciers advanced down the Swiss Alps covering farms and villages. The population of Iceland halved as a result of the extreme weather.

The Impact of the Little Ice Age

Many people became malnourished. Food shortages are thought to have been the cause of some wars during this period. There were also famines. The Great Famine of 1315 to 1317 killed millions of people. Bad weather led to massive crop failures, so people didn’t have enough food to eat. The social disruption it created also led to increased crime and disease.

Winters were so cold, the River Thames in London used to freeze. People held what are known as frost fairs on the ice. The first recorded frost fair happened in 1608. This is a description of a frost fair:

Coaches plied from Westminster to the Temple, and from several other stairs too and fro, as in the streets, sleds, sliding with skates, bull-baiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays…

A painting by Thomas Wyke depicting a frost fair
A painting by Thomas Wyke depicting a frost fair

What Caused the Little Ice Age?

So, what caused the Little Ice Age to occur? Some scientists think a period of decreased solar activity known as the Maunder Minimum may have been responsible. This is thought to have led to less heat reaching the Earth. However, volcanoes are a more likely explanation.

Volcanic eruptions can send ash high into the atmosphere. This can spread to cover the Earth. The ash can block some of the sun’s heat. There were several major volcanic eruptions during the Little Ice Age. In 1815, a volcano called Mount Tambora erupted in Indonesia. The next year became known as the Year Without A Summer. This led to crop failure. According to a newspaper article dated June 17, 1816:

On the night of 6th instant, after a cold day, Jack Frost paid another visit to this region of the country, and nipped the beans, cucumbers, and other tender plants. This surely is cold weather for summer.

The Earth’s climate started to warm up again around 1850. Scientists mark this as the time the Little Ice Age came to an end.

Mount Tambora is an active volcano
Mount Tambora is an active volcano | Source

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