Holocene climate variability is punctuated by episodic climatic events such as the Little Ice Age (LIA) predating the industrial-era warming. Their dating and forcing mechanisms have however remained controversial. Even more crucially, it is uncertain whether earlier events represent climatic regimes similar to the LIA. Here we produce and analyse a new 7500-year long palaeoclimate record tailored to detect LIA-like climatic regimes from northern European tree-ring data. In addition to the actual LIA, we identify LIA-like ca. 100–800 year periods with cold temperatures combined with clear sky conditions from 540 CE, 1670 BCE, 3240 BCE and 5450 BCE onwards, these LIA-like regimes covering 20% of the study period. Consistent with climate modelling, the LIA-like regimes originate from a coupled atmosphere–ocean–sea ice North Atlantic-Arctic system and were amplified by volcanic activity (multiple eruptions closely spaced in time), tree-ring evidence pointing to similarly enhanced LIA-like regimes starting after the eruptions recorded in 1627 BCE, 536/540 CE and 1809/1815 CE. Conversely, the ongoing decline in Arctic sea-ice extent is mirrored in our data which shows reversal of the LIA-like conditions since the late nineteenth century, our record also correlating highly with the instrumentally recorded Northern Hemisphere and global temperatures over the same period. Our results bridge the gaps between low- and high-resolution, precisely dated proxies and demonstrate the efficacy of slow and fast components of the climate system to generate LIA-like climate regimes.
- Atlantic meridional overturning circulation
- East Atlantic pattern
- Little Ice Age
- Tree ring
- Volcanic forcing