How Warm Was the Medieval Warm Period?
By Thomas J. Lowery
AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment, Vol. 29:1 (2000)
Abstract: A frequent conclusion based on study of individual records from the so-called Medieval Warm Period (∼1000-1300 A.D.) is that the present warmth of the 20th century is not unusual and therefore cannot be taken as an indication of forced climate change from greenhouse gas emissions. This conclusion is not supported by published composites of Northern Hemisphere climate change, but the conclusions of such syntheses are often either ignored or challenged. In this paper, we revisit the controversy by incorporating additional time series not used in earlier hemispheric compilations. Another difference is that the present reconstruction uses records that are only 900–1000 years long, thereby, avoiding the potential problem of uncertainties introduced by using different numbers of records at different times. Despite clear evidence for Medieval warmth greater than present in some individual records, the new hemispheric composite supports the principal conclusion of earlier hemispheric reconstructions and, furthermore, indicates that maximum Medieval warmth was restricted to two-three 20–30 year intervals, with composite values during these times being only comparable to the mid-20th century warm time interval. Failure to substantiate hemispheric warmth greater than the present consistently occurs in composites because there are significant offsets in timing of warmth in different regions; ignoring these offsets can lead to serious errors concerning inferences about the magnitude of Medieval warmth and its relevance to interpretation of late 20th century warming.