Perception, history, and science: coherence or disparity in the timing of the Little Ice Age maximum in southeast Iceland?

Krista M. Mckinzey, Rannveig Ólafsdóttir, Andrew J. Dugmore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

In Iceland, studies that integrate local perceptions about the landscape with scientific evidence of change have been few. This article presents a case study from southeast Iceland that has two main objectives. Firstly, ethnographic data is used to explore the human dimension of the Little Ice Age through perceptions of landscape and climatic change and to describe the impacts that these changes had on life and livelihood. Secondly, the paper critically assesses the coherence of the scientific record regarding the Little Ice Age glacial maximum with evidence gained from the ethnographic survey and the local historical record. Although climatic deterioration from the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries ultimately affected farming viability, it was the interplay of climate with concomitant cultural and socio-economic factors that ensured effective strategies were emplaced to preserve life and livelihood in southeast Iceland. Furthermore, despite different trajectories of perception emanating from either the scientific or the local points of view, data from all sources are strongly coherent and point to a Little Ice Age maximum during the late eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries. This study also illustrates that sensitive landscapes can ‘store memories’ through the cumulative accumulation of disturbances during periods of climatic variability, eventually reaching a critical threshold and inducing landscape instability, such as occurred during the nineteenth century.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-334
Number of pages16
JournalPolar Record
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2005


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