*Freshman Seminar 51J. Whence the Little Ice Age: An Inquiry into the Penultimate Climate Anomaly

The relatively cooler surface temperature that prevailed during the Little Ice Age are important to understand for their historical significance, as a baseline from which to understand modern changes, and as an opportunity to explore how and why the climate varies. There are three not-necessarily exclusive hypotheses for the Little Ice Age: volcanism, solar variability, and internal redistributions of heat. We will begin by familiarizing ourselves with the scientific literature related to these three hypotheses, and then turn to inquiring whether human and natural historical records can help distinguish amongst these various factors. As examples of human historical records, we will make use of daily temperature records kept by Harvard’s President Holyoke; depictions of ice, shadows, and vegetation in paintings; and the dates of flowering given in Henry Thoreau’s diaries. For natural records, will explore tree ring and pollen records, geochemical indicators of sea surface temperatures, and records from ice cores. More broadly, we will seek to gain some appreciation of how societies adapted to and were influenced by the altered climate conditions of the Little Ice Age. This class is for students interested in conducting original climate research that draws upon physical science, data analysis, and history.

Recommended Prep: A background in math and physics and interest in human and natural history is recommended.

Course Requirements: Course open to Freshman Students Only








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  • [Course titles in brackets] indicate that the course is not scheduled to be taught during the 2018-2019 academic year, but may be offered in an alternate year.
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