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Lunar eclipses illuminate timing and climate impact of medieval volcanism

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Guillet, Sébastien  ORCID logo
Lavigne, Franck 


Explosive volcanism is a key contributor to climate variability on interannual to centennial timescales1. Understanding the far-field societal impacts of eruption-forced climatic changes requires firm event chronologies and reliable estimates of both the burden and altitude (that is, tropospheric versus stratospheric) of volcanic sulfate aerosol2, 3. However, despite progress in ice-core dating, uncertainties remain in these key factors4. This particularly hinders investigation of the role of large, temporally clustered eruptions during the High Medieval Period (HMP, 1100–1300 ce), which have been implicated in the transition from the warm Medieval Climate Anomaly to the Little Ice Age5. Here we shed new light on explosive volcanism during the HMP, drawing on analysis of contemporary reports of total lunar eclipses, from which we derive a time series of stratospheric turbidity. By combining this new record with aerosol model simulations and tree-ring-based climate proxies, we refine the estimated dates of five notable eruptions and associate each with stratospheric aerosol veils. Five further eruptions, including one responsible for high sulfur deposition over Greenland circa 1182 ce, affected only the troposphere and had muted climatic consequences. Our findings offer support for further investigation of the decadal-scale to centennial-scale climate response to volcanic eruptions.


Acknowledgements: S.G., C.C., M.K. and M. Stoffel were supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation Sinergia Project CALDERA (CRSII5_183571). S.G. acknowledges A. Harrak (Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto), F. Espenak (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), F. Hierink (Institute for Environmental Sciences, University of Geneva) and P. Souyri (Department of East Asian Studies, University of Geneva) for providing advice on the manuscript. F. Lavigne was supported by Institut Universitaire de France (IUF, Academic Institute of France). M.K. received funding from the EUR IPSL – Climate Graduate School project, managed by the ANR within the “Investissements d’avenir” programme under reference ANR-11-IDEX-0004-17-EURE-0006. F. Ludlow received funding from an Irish Research Council Starting Laureate Award (CLICAB project, IRCLA/2017/303). F. Ludlow and Z.Y. also received funding from a European Research Council (ERC) Synergy Grant (4-OCEANS; grant agreement no. 951649) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. M. Sigl received funding from the ERC under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no. 820047). This paper is a product of the Volcanic Impacts on Climate and Society (VICS) working group.


Article, /704/106/694/1108, /704/106/413, article

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Nature Publishing Group UK