A quantitative hydroclimatic context for the European Great Famine of 1315-17

Baek, Seung Hun; Smerdon, Jason E.; Dobrin, George-Costin; Naimark, Jacob Genek; Cook, Edward R.; Cook, Benjamin I.; Seager, Richard; Cane, Mark A.; Scholz, Serena R.

The European Great Famine of 1315–1317 triggered one of the worst population collapses in European history and ranks as the single worst European famine in mortality as a proportion of population. Historical records point to torrential rainfall, land saturation, crop failure, and prolonged flooding as important causes of the famine. Here we use the tree-ring based Old World Drought Atlas (OWDA) to show that the average of each growing season preceding the Great Famine years (1314–1316) was the fifth wettest over Europe from 1300 to 2012 C.E. The spatial and temporal characteristics of our OWDA-estimated anomalies are in excellent agreement with available historical accounts. We also characterize a mode of European hydroclimate variability that is associated with the Great Famine, which we term the “Great Famine mode.” This mode emerges as the leading mode of European hydroclimate variability from 1300–2012 and is strongly associated with extreme wet and dry events in Europe over the last millennium.

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Communications Earth & Environment

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