Hunters in the Snow by Pieter Breughel. Breughel captured the long winters of the Little Ice Age in this 1565 painting.
Click on image for full size
Caspar Ammann

The Little Ice Age

From about 1250 to 1850 temperatures were a bit colder than usual in most parts of the world. This time is called the Little Ice Age.

During the Little Ice Age, the average temperature of the planet was about a degree Celsius cooler than it is today (thatís 2-3 degrees Fahrenheit). Scientists think that the planet was cooler because there was less solar activity and more erupting volcanoes. The Little Ice Age was not a true ice age because it did not get cold enough for long enough to cause ice sheets to grow larger. The cooling likely affected areas around the world but we have the most records of how it changed daily life from Europe. Listed below were some of the things we know happened during the Little Ice Age.

  • Fur trappers reported that southern Hudson Bay remained frozen for about 3 weeks longer each spring.
  • Fishermen reported large amounts of sea ice floating in the North Atlantic.
  • British people saw Eskimos paddling canoes off the coast of England.
  • Alpine (mountain) glaciers grew larger.
  • Winters were longer and growing seasons shorter according to tree ring data and records of cherry tree flowering.
  • Wet weather caused disease that affected people, animals and crops including the plague. The plague is also called the Black Death. It was a disease that killed more than a third of Europeans.
  • Because farmers couldnít grow food, people went hungry in areas of northern and Eastern Europe. Unlike today, there was no way to transport food from far away.
Last modified June 20, 2008 by Lisa Gardiner.

You might also be interested in:

Cool It! Game

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

The Medieval Warm Period

The Medieval Warm Period was a time of warm climate in Europe. The warmest part of the Medieval Warm Period was from about 950 until 1100 A.D. The warm climate overlaps with a time of high solar activity...more

A New Plan to Help Earthís Changing Climate

Leaders from the countries of the world are heading to Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2009 to decide how the world will deal with climate change. They will make decisions about how to send less greenhouse...more

What Is Climate?

How do you know to pack your bathing suit and sunhat for a trip to a tropical island or pack warm sweaters and coats for a trip to Alaska? If you know a little about regional climates, then you know what...more

Earth's Greenhouse Gases

Only a tiny amount of the gases in Earthís atmosphere are greenhouse gases. But they have a huge effect on climate. There are several different types of greenhouse gases, but they all have something in...more

Space Missions to study Earth's Atmosphere & Climate

Some satellites study Earth from space. Some of them study our atmosphere and weather. Some take pictures of clouds. Others use special instruments to make measurements of temperature, humidity, or the...more

Modeling the Future of Climate Change

To figure out what the Earth might be like in the future, scientists need to know how Earth reacts to changes. Models help scientists to better understand how the Earth works and how it will react to climate...more

Effects of Climate Change Today

Have you ever taken your temperature to see if you are getting sick? Scientists have been taking the Earth's temperature and have found that it is getting warmer. During the past 100 years, the Earth's...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA