In DepthClimate

Eruption made 536 ‘the worst year to be alive’

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  16 Nov 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6416, pp. 733-734
DOI: 10.1126/science.362.6416.733

You are currently viewing the summary.

View Full Text

Log in to view the full text

Log in through your institution

Log in through your institution

Summary

Ask medieval historian Michael McCormick which year was the worst to be alive, and he's got an answer: "536." In that year, a mysterious fog plunged Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia into darkness, day and night—for 18 months. Summer temperatures dropped 1.5°C to 2.5°C, initiating the coldest decade in the past 2300 years. Snow fell that summer in China; crops failed; people starved. Historians have long known that the middle of the sixth century was a dark hour in what used to be called the Dark Ages, but the source of the mysterious clouds has long been a mystery. Now, after analyzing volcanic glass particles in ice from a Swiss glacier, a team of researchers has identified the culprit: A cataclysmic volcano in Iceland spewed ash across the Northern Hemisphere early in 536.