The Worst Year to Be Alive - 536 AD

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536 AD was not a good year to be to be a human - especially in Eastern Europe. Below are some written descriptions of what it was like:

  • Michael the Syrian, wrote: "[T]he sun became dark and its darkness lasted for one and a half years [...] Each day it shone for about four hours and still this light was only a feeble shadow [...] the fruits did not ripen and the wine tasted like sour grapes."
  • A prefect of Italy at the time, wrote: "so we have had a winter without storms, spring without mildness, summer without heat."
  • A roman politician wrote: “the sun had a buish color, the moon lost its luster and the seasons seem to be jumbled up together.

Global temperatures fell by 2.5 degrees C (5 degrees F) on average. The culprit was an Icelandic volcano that began eruption in early 536 AD. This was punctuated by another eruption in 540, the bubonic plague in 541, and another eruption in 547 to round out one of the worst decades to be alive on Earth. All of these events caused a combined effect that took the planet over a hundred years to recover.
In this episode, we discuss a little about the geology of Icelandic volcanoes and why they are so diverse. However, the main focus is on the process of scientific discovery. We dive into ice core analysis and tree ring data that helped researchers piece together the puzzle.
Join Jesse and Chris as we discuss what might have been the worst year, decade, or century to be a human in modern times.

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