Eastern European Tree Rings Reveal Climate Variability and Human History

Adding to the growing evidence that ‘things are not as they once were’, a new dendrochronological study has found that socio-cultural disruptions in Eastern Europe during the past millennium coincided with periods of decreased temperature, and recent temperature in the region is warmer than at any previous time over the past thousand years.

Oh, dendrochronological is the scientific method by which we use tree-rings to date historical climate.

Because who doesn’t need to have the word ‘dendrochronological’ in their vocab?

The study is the work of an international research team under the lead of Ulf Büntgen from the Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL and the University of Berne and was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA.

The researchers constructed May to June temperatures dating yearly back to 1040 AD thanks to a collection of 545 precisely dated tree-ring width samples taken from living trees and larch wood taken from historical buildings in the northern Carpathian arc of Slovakia.

Tree Rings Reveal Eastern European Climate Variability
Annually resolved variations of May-June temperature between 1040 and 2011 AD, based on 545 samples of living trees and historical timbers (Larix decidua Mill.) from the Slovakian Tatra Mountains in the northwestern Carpathian arc.
Graph: Ulf Büntgen (WSL

On top of developing the ring-based temperature history the researchers compared this history against record human history, finding that plague outbreaks, political conflicts, and migration movements often matched up with periods of cooler temperatures.

This latest Eastern Europe dendrochronological study bears up alongside previous dendrochronological studies in Central Europe, but that doesn’t mean we can jump to any simplified conclusions.

Lead author of both studies, Ulf Büntgen, warns against any such frantic assumptions;

“the relationship between climate and culture is extremely complex and certainly not yet well enough understood. Nevertheless, we now better recognize that well documented and carefully analysed tree-ring chronologies can contain much more information than supposed so far”

The result, therefore, is that this new study adds more data to a tricky subject and confirms the need for further study and development of what we know.

Source: Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research

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