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Learn from history

A team of Aberdeen University scientists have shown the value of cross curricular inquiry combining historical data from the time of Robert the Bruce with scientific analysis of Greenland ice cores to provide clues to this year's wet summer.

The study, published in The Helocene by a team led by Alastair Dawson, senior research fellow in the Institute for Coastal Science and Management, in collaboration with scientists from the United States, Ireland and Norway, used information from Greenland ice to reconstruct past ocean surface temperatures across the North Atlantic and compared this information with historical documentary records of past climate.

Many historical accounts have drawn attention to 1315-1318 as a period of climatically induced famine, associated with the "great rains". It is believed that the whole of north-west Europe may have been affected by rain similar to that experienced this summer but that the rainfall lasted three successive summers, autumns and winters. The weather coincided with a time of severe food shortages, military raids for food, and death due to famine. It followed almost immediately after the Battle of Bannockburn the same time as Bruce's military campaign across Ireland.

Professor Dawson said: "The episodes of exceptional rainfall associated with the famines of 1315-1318 coincide with ice core measurements that indicate the occurrence of abnormally high Atlantic sea surface temperatures. Whatever the causes of such an abrupt change in climate, we would be well served to learn the lessons of history. Part of the reason these patterns of change have not been studied until now is that historians are not generally aware of the details of climate change, while climate scientists are not that well versed in history."

Dawson, AG, Hickey, K, Mayewski, PA and A Nesje, 2007. Greenland (GISP2) ice core and historical indicators of complex North Atlantic climate changes during the 14th century. The Holocene, 17, 4, 427-434.

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