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Little Ice Age
Scientific American Frontiers

Edna Sun

February 15,2005


February 15 , 2005 — It was only a few hundred years ago that the earth experienced its last ice age. Global temperatures started falling during the 1300s and hit their lowest points in the late 1700s and early 1800s. New Yorkers could walk from Manhattan to Staten Island across a frozen harbor, while Londoners held "Frost Fairs" on a solid Thames River. Glaciers advanced in China, New Zealand, and Peru, and snow covered Ethiopian peaks. Diseases, aided by the change in climate, spread quickly throughout Europe and Asia. Iced waters delayed shipping from ports, growing glaciers engulfed farms and villages, tree lines receded, and agriculture deteriorated, leading to centuries of poor harvests, famine, and social unrest. Though the average global temperature dropped only one to two degrees Celsius below what they are today, the cold spell nevertheless drastically affected life at this time.


Global temperatures naturally fluctuate slightly from year to year. However, in the past 10,000 years, there have been three relatively long global cold spells. The Little Ice Age (LIA) is the most recent and best documented, especially in Europe.

It is our attitude toward free thought and free expression that will determine our fate. There must be no limit on the range of temperate discussion, no limits on thought. No subject must be taboo. No censor must preside at our assemblies.

–William O. Douglas, U.S. Supreme Court Justice, 1952

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