Navigation – Plan du site


Jean-Michel Carozza, Benoît Devillers, Nick Marriner et Christophe Morhange
p. 11-13
Cet article est une traduction de :
Introduction [fr]

Texte intégral

1 - The Little Ice Age : an ambiguous term

1The term petit âge de glace (PAG) is the literal translation of the English ‘Little Ice Age’ (LIA). During the past 20 years, the Little Ice Age has emerged as a topic of major research focus spanning such fields as paleoecology, environmental history and climate history (Fig. 1). Despite its widespread usage, no formal definition exists and the term is characterized by a number of ambiguities.

2Firstly, the Little Ice Age (LIA) was initially used to describe the late 19th century AD and the glacial floods that impacted the main mountain ranges of both Europe and North America (MATTHEWS and BRIFFA, 2005; WOODWORD, 2014). It was only later that the term was extended to encompass a longer period corresponding to a cold phase in Europe and North America, expressed, for instance, by the expansion of glaciers (LAMBS, 1965; LEROY‑LADURIE, 1967). Although the term was initially used to describe a process, it has gradually acquired a chronological meaning, which has posed some difficulties as outlined in the article by HUGHES (this volume). Today, the LIA is used to denote the cold phase that precedes the onset of global warming beginning in the very late 19th century. Nonetheless, this shift in meaning to a chronological period has never been formalized and there is no real consensus on the precise time window covered. Early work by LAMBS (1965) on the Atlantic emphasized the strong and sharp contrast of this episode with the previous warm phase (referred to as the Medieval Climate Anomaly, MCA, XOPLAKI et al., 2011). The exact onset of the LIA remains heavily dependent on the indicators used. For instance, it begins around 1250 AD if we consider the growth of ice in the Atlantic, towards 1300‑1310 AD if one takes into consideration severe winters in Europe (LEROY-LADURIE, 1967, 2004), or even in 1550 AD for the global expansion of glaciers (BRADLEY and JONES, 1995; HUDDART and STOTT, 2010).

3The specificities of the LIA around the Mediterranean in terms of processes, events and timing are still debated. Nonetheless, they are crucial for our understanding of climate dynamics and its potential effects on Mediterranean societies.

2 - Research on the LIA in the Mediterranean can be articulated around four broad questions:

4– What are the chronological boundaries for the beginning and the end of the LIA in the Mediterranean? Are they identical to those proposed for Atlantic Europe? Recently, the first changes in sedimentary dynamics in the western Mediterranean were reported to have occurred around 1260-1270 AD (CAROZZA et al., 2011; SIMMONEAU et al., 2012; VELLA et al., this volume), fitting with earlier findings by BROCHIER (1983) around the Gulf of Lion. At a more general level, many authors point out that, during the transition phase between the MCA and the LIA, more frequent extreme events occurred (TROUET et al., 2009; MORELLÓN et al., 2012; MORENO et al., 2012; TROUET et al., 2012). From a hydro-sedimentary perspective, these events could have been accentuated by a ‘destabilization’ of the landscape, recorded by palynological records and related to a fall in human impacts as a result of the great plagues (RULL et al., 2011; EJARQUE et al., 2009).

5Are the expressions of the LIA similar across the Mediterranean or should we analyze regional scales? For instance, around the Gulf of Lion, recent studies have highlighted a trend of high runoff and cold winters whereas, by contrast, data from the Iberian peninsula have shown that the low temperatures were associated with drought. The same is true for the Eastern Mediterranean, where the work of SCHILMAN et al. (2001) and ROBERTS et al. (2012) has shown that the LIA was cold but dry. The strong influence of La Niña-NAO+ in the Western Mediterranean seems less pronounced in the Eastern Mediterranean (GÖKTÜRK, 2011). This finding raises the question of the criteria that need to be used to define the LIA across the Mediterranean. As for Northern Europe, discussion is clearly needed on the types of indicators that might be used to frame this change (records of temperature and precipitation, and the rhythms and intensities of change; NESJE DAHL, 2003). Furthermore, increased rainfall raises the question of the environmental impacts upon human occupation patterns during the LIA in the Eastern Mediterranean (GROVE, 1988; DEVILLERS, 2005; DEVILLERS and LECUYER, 2008).

6Can the internal secular rhythmicity of the LIA, as it was defined in Central Europe, be applied to the Mediterranean, in particular in relation to its earliest phase (the end of the 13th century AD) and a pronounced cold phase beginning in the mid-16th century? Historical work has shown that around the Western Mediterranean, the LIA was characterized by alternating periods of high runoff and severe droughts. Thus, during the second half of the 17th century and early 18th century, much of the Mediterranean’s western basin seems to be characterized by a tendency towards aridity followed by a renewed wet and cold phase from 1740-1750 AD that is well recorded in the Pyrenees (MÉTAILIÉ, 1987), in Languedoc, in the lower Rhône valley (PICHARD and ROUCAUTE, 2009) and the Alps (EDOUARD et al., 2009). Similarly, if the 19th century may appear to be the peak of the LIA, its detailed chronology shows a contrast between a very dry phase centred around 1800-1820 AD, recorded in Languedoc (GARNIER, 2009) and in the Cevennes (ASTRADE et al., 2011). Research in coastal areas of southern France also suggests that the LIA was a period of increased storminess. All of these elements suggest that the LIA is complex and cannot be described simply as a period of cold and wet climate.

7Finally, the question of the effects of climate-related changes associated with the LIA upon societies should be thought of within the context of Mediterranean populations, where the management of water resources is a recurrent problem. Caution must be exercised when looking at this issue because chronological similarities are not necessarily coincident with the same causal mechanism. The climate does not make history, but it can contribute to social dynamics and innovation by promoting the adoption of new practices, rules or technics and technologies (BUTZER, 2012; CAROZZA and PUIG, 2011). Truly multidisciplinary approaches are therefore required to effectively study the LIA. Whilst the exacerbation of hydrological changes and sediment crises probably had a negative impact in mountainous and urban areas, the same is not necessarily true for low-lying agricultural plains where ‘new land’ was gained on the sea (e.g. rapid deltaic progradation) and rivers. The changing balance of power between urban areas and the countryside during the modern period could therefore lead to an erroneously negative reading of the LIA. It is important to place these spaces at the centre of the debate on the impacts of this environmental crisis (CAROZZA, 2012).

8The general pattern that emerges from recent syntheses (LUTERBACHER et al., 2012; CAMUFFO et al., 2010) is that, at the regional scale, it is still difficult to get a precise idea of the spatial and temporal variability of climate change during the LIA. One of the reasons for this relates to the spatial disparities in documentary sources. For example, there is a clear difference between data from the Eastern and Western Mediterranean. Historical approaches that were developed in the Western Mediterranean have more recently been expanded to Byzantine and Ottoman sources. Finally, geomorphological studies looking at sedimentation rates were initially developed in the Central Mediterranean, with the pioneering work of VITA-FINZI (1969), before being extended to the Western and Eastern Mediterranean.

9From these syntheses, a fragmented picture of the Mediterranean during the LIA emerges, with a notable absence of data from its southern seaboard. Dendrochronological data are, for example, restricted to the Atlas mountains of Morocco. There are no speleothem records from the North African seaboard. Work on fluvial sediment crises is restricted exclusively to Tunisia (ZIELHOFER and FAUST, 2008; MATHIEU et al., 2004). In other work, BKHAIRI and KARRAY (2008) have also looked at alluvial terraces in Tunisia. With regards to historical sources, the work is limited to just a few Arabic (VOGT et al., 2011; ELLENBLUM, 2012) or Arabo-Andalusian (GHOUIRGATE, 2011) sources. This probably constitutes one of the richest avenues for future research on the LIA.

Haut de page


ASTRADE L., JACOB-ROUSSEAU N., ALLIGNOL F., (2011), Les successions d’interactions entre climat, sociétés et paysages dans un contexte de changements : les moyennes montagnes du sud-est de la France à la sortie du Petit Âge Glaciaire. In : Lambiel, C., Reynard, E., Scapozza, C. (Eds). La géomorphologie alpine : entre patrimoine et contrainte. Actes du colloque de la Société Suisse de Géomorphologie, 3-5 septembre 2009, Olivone, p. 62-78.

BKHAIRI A., KARRAY M.R., (2008), Les terrasses historiques du bassin de Kasserine (Tunisie centrale). Géomorphologie, 3, p. 201-2013.

BRADLEY R.S., JONES P.D., (1995), Climate since A.D. 1500. Psychology Press, 706 p.

BROCHIER J.-E., (1983), Deux milles ans d’histoire du climat dans le Midi de la France. Étude sédimentologique de l’abri de la Font de l’Oule (Vaucluse) et de l’abri de Font-Juvénal (Aude). Annales E.S.C., 2, p. 425-438.

BUTZER K.W., (2012), Collapse, environment and society. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci., 109, 10, 3632-3239.

CAMUFFO D., BERTOLIN C., BARRIENDOS M., DOMINGUEZ-CASTRO F., COCHEO C., ENZI S., et al., (2010), 500-year temperature reconstruction in the Mediterranean Basin by means of documentary data and instrumental observations. Climate Change, 101, p. 169–199.

CAROZZA J.-M., (2012), Les sociétés du passé face aux crises environnementales : une approche géoarchéologique et géomorphologique. Mémoire d’Habilitation à Diriger des Recherches, Paris 7, tome 1, 266 p.

CAROZZA J.-M., PUIG C., (2011), Changements environnementaux, vulnérabilité et adaptation des sociétés du passé : exemple du Petit Âge Glaciaire en Roussillon (XIII‑XVIe s.). Sud-Ouest Européen, 32, p. 6780.

CAROZZA J.-M., PUIG C., ODIOT T., VALETTE P., PASSARRIUS O., (2011), Lower Mediterranean plain accelerated evolution during the Little Ice Age: Geoarchaeological insight in the Tech basin (Roussillon, Gulf of Lion, Western Mediterranean). Quaternary International, 266, p. 94104.

DEVILLERS B., (2008), Holocene morphogenesis and anthropisation of a semi-arid watershed, Gialias river, Cyprus, BAR International, Series 1775, 197 p.

DEVILLERS E., LECUYER N., (2008), Le Petit Âge Glaciaire en milieu semi-aride : le bassin versant du Gialias (Chypre) et ses relations avec l’occupation des sols. Zeit. Für Geomorph., 52, 2, p. 207‑224.

EDOUARD E., CORONA C., THOMAS A., GUIBAL F., DENELLE N., (2009), Le Petit Âge Glaciaire dans les cernes de croissance des arbres des Alpes françaises. Approche dendrochronologique. Archéologie du Midi Médiéval, 27, p. 169177.

EJARQUE A., JULIA R., PALET J.-M., ORENGO H.A., MIRAS Y., GASCON C., (2009), Tracing the history of highland human management in the eastern Pre-Pyrenees : an interdisciplinary palaeoenvironmental study at the Pradell fen, Spain. The Holocene, 19, 8, p. 1241‑1255.

ELLENBLUM R., (2012), The collapse of the Eastern Mediterranean. Climate change and the decline of the east (950‑1072). Cambridge University Press, 261 p.

GARNIER E., (2009), Les sociétés méditerranéennes à l’épreuve du climat 1500-1850. Sud-Ouest Européen, 32, p. 21‑33.

GHOUIRGATE M., (2011), La gestion des crises de subsistance par les souverains almohades. Sud Ouest Européen, 32, p. 95102.

GÖKTÜRK O.M., (2011), Climate in the Eastern Mediterranean Through the Holocene Inferred from Turkish Stalagmites. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Bern, 113 p.

GROVE M., (1988), The Little Ice Age. Methuen, London, 498 p.

HORBERG L., (1954), Rocky Mountain and Continental Pleistocene Deposits in the Waterton Region Alberta, Canada. Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, 65, p. 1093‑1150.

HUDDART D., STOTT T., (2010), Earth environments: Past, present and future. Wiley, 912 p.

LAMB H.H., (1972), Climate: Past, Present and Future, 2 vol. , Methuen, London, p. 648 p.

LAMB H.H., (1995), Climat history and the Modern world. Routledge, London, 464 p.

LAMBS H.H., (1965), The Early Medieval warm epoch and its sequel. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 1, p. 13-37.

LEROY-LADURIE E., (1967), Histoire du climat depuis l’An Mil. Flammarion, Paris, 371 p.

LEROY-LADURIE E., (2004), Histoire humaine et comparée du climat. Canicules et glaciers, XIIe-XVIIIe s., Fayard, Paris, 737 p.

LUTERBACHER J., GARCIA HERRERA R., ALLAN R., ALVAREZ-CASTRO B. G., BENITO G., BOOTH J., BUNTGEN U., COLOMBAROLI D., DAVIS B., ESPER J., FELIS T., FLEITMANN D., FRANK D., GALLEGO D., GONZALEZ-ROUCO F. J., GOOSSE H., KIEFER T., MACKLIN M. G., MONTAGNA P., NEWMAN L., RIBERA P., ROBERTS N., SILENZI S., TINNER W., VALERO‑GARCES B., VAN DER SCHRIER G., VANNIERE B., WANNER H., WERNER J. P., WILLETT G., XOPLAKI C. S., ZEREFOS E., ZORITA E., (2012), A review of 2000 years of paleoclimate evidence in the Mediterranean. In: Lionello P. (ed.), The climate of the Mediterranean region: From the past to the Future. Elsevier, Amsterdam, p. 87186.

MANN M.E., BRADLEY R.S., HUGHES M.K., (1999), Northern Hemisphere Temperatures During the Past Millennium: Inferences, Uncertainties, and Limitations, Geophysical Research Letters, 26, p. 759762.

MATTHES F., (1939), Report of Committee on Glaciers, Trans. Am.Geophys. Union, 20, p. 518‑535.

MATHIEU J., WEISROCK A., WENGLER L., BROCHIER J.-E., EVEN G., FONTUGNE M., MERCIER N., OUAMMOU A., SENEGAS F., VALLADAS H., VERNET J.-L., WAHL L., (2004), Holocene deposits in the lower section of the Assaka wadi, south Marocco. Preliminary results. Quaternaire, 15, 12, p. 207218.

MATTHEWS J.A., BRIFFA K.R., (2005), The Little Ice Age: re-evaluation of an evolving concept. Geografiscka Annaler, A, 87, 1, p. 1736.

MÉTAILIÉ J.-P., (1987), The degradation of the Pyrenees in the nineteenth century: an erosion crisis. In: Gardiner V. (Ed). Proceedings of the first international conference on geomorphology, Manchester, September 1985, Chichester, Wiley, Part II, p. 533544.

MORELLÓN M., PÉREZ-SANZ A., CORELLA J.P., BÜNTGEN U., CATALÁN J., GONZÁLEZ‑SAMPÉRIZ P., GONZÁLEZ‑TRUEBA J.J., LÓPEZ-SÁEZ J.A., MORENO A., PLA‑RABES S., SAZ‑SÁNCHEZ M.A., SCUSSOLINI P., SERRANO E., STEINHILBER F., STEFANOVA V., VEGAS-VILARRÚBIA T., VALERO-GARCÉS B., (2012), A multi‑proxy perspective on millennium-long climate variability in the Southern Pyrenees. Climate of the Past, 8, p. 683700.

MORENO A., PÉREZ A., FRIGOL J., NIETO-MORENO V., RODRIGO-GÁMIZ M., MARTRAT B., GONZÁLEZ‑SAMPÉRIZ P., MORELLÓN M., MARTÍN-PUERTAS C., CORELLA J.P., BELMONTE Á., SANCHO C., CACHO I., HERRERA G., CANALS M., GRIMALT J.O., JIMÉNEZ-ESPEJO F., MARTÍNEZ-RUIZ F., VEGAS-VILARRÚBIA T., VALERO-GARCÉS B.L., (2012), The Medieval Climate Anomaly in the Iberian Peninsula reconstructed from marine and lake records. Quaternary Science Reviews, 43, p. 1632.

NESJE A., DAHL S.O., (2003), The Little Ice Age: Only temperature? The Holocene, 13, 1, p. 139‑145.

PICHARD G., ROUCAUTE É., (2009), Une déclinaison régionale du Petit Âge Glaciaire. Apport des archives historiques en Provence. Archéologie du Midi Médiéval, 27, p. 237247.

ROBERTS N., MORENO A., VALERO-GARCÉS B.L., CORELLA J.P., JONES M., ALLCOCK S., WOODBRIDGE J., MORELLÓN M., LUTERBACHER J., XOPLAKI E., TÜRKEŞ M., (2012), Palaeolimnological evidence for an east–west climate see-saw in the Mediterranean since AD 900. Global and Planetary Change, 84–85, p. 23‑34.

RULL V., GONZÁLEZ-SAMPÉRIZ P., CORELLA J., MORELLÓN M., GIRALT S., (2011), Vegetation changes in the southern Pyrenean flank during the last millennium in relation to climate and human activities: the Montcortès lacustrine record. Journal of Paleolimnology, 46, p. 387404.

SIMONNEAU A., CHAPRON E., COURP T., TACHIKAWA K,. LE ROUX G., GALOP D., GARCIA M., DESMET M., BARD E., (2012), Lacustrine archives of climate and recent human activities evolutions in Pyrenean mountains during the Holocene (Etang Majeur, Vicdessos valley, Pyrénées, France). Sud-Ouest Européen, 33, p. 101116.

SCHILMAN B., BAR-MATTHEWS M., ALMOGI-LABIN A., LUZ B., (2001), Global climate instability reflected by Eastern Mediterranean marine records during the late Holocene. Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 176, p. 157176.

TROUET V., ESPER J., GRAHAM N.E., BAKER A., SCOURSE J.D., FRANK D.C., (2009), Persistent positive North Atlantic oscillation mode dominated the medieval climate anomaly. Science, 324, p. 7880.

TROUET V., SCOURSE J.D., RAIBLE C.C., (2012), North Atlantic storminess and Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation during the last Millennium: reconciling contradictory proxy records of NAO variability. Global and Planetary Change, p. 84-85.

VITA-FINZI C., (1969), The Mediterranean Valleys. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 140 p.

VOGT S., GLASER R., LUTERBACHER J., RIEMANN D., AL DYAB G., SCHOENBEIN J., (2011). Assessing the Medieval Climate Anomaly in the Middle East: the potential of Arabic documentary sources. Pages News, 19, p. 28‑29.

WOODWARD J., (2014), The Ice Age. A very short introduction. Oxford University Press, 184 p.

XOPLAKI E., FLEITMANN D., DIAZ H.F., (2011), Medieval Climate Anomaly. Pages News, 19, 1, p. 1-4.

ZIELHOFER C., FAUST D., (2008), Mid- and Late Holocene fluvial chronology of Tunisia. Quaternary Science Reviews, 27, p. 580‑588.

Haut de page

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1
Fichier image/png, 28k
Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Jean-Michel Carozza, Benoît Devillers, Nick Marriner et Christophe Morhange, « Foreword », Méditerranée, 122 | 2014, 11-13.

Référence électronique

Jean-Michel Carozza, Benoît Devillers, Nick Marriner et Christophe Morhange, « Foreword », Méditerranée [En ligne], 122 | 2014, mis en ligne le 19 juin 2016, consulté le 23 février 2018. URL :

Haut de page


Jean-Michel Carozza

Lecturer, GEODE, Cnrs, Mirail’s University, Toulouse, France,

Articles du même auteur

Benoît Devillers

Lecturer in Géography physique, Montpellier 3 University, UMR 5140,

Articles du même auteur

Nick Marriner

Researcher, CNRS, Chrono-environnement Laboratory, UMR 6249, University of Franche-Comté, Besançon France,

Articles du même auteur

Christophe Morhange

Professor of Geography, Aix-Marseille Université, CEREGE UMR 7330,

Articles du même auteur

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Tous droits réservés

Haut de page
  • Logo Presses Universitaires de Provence
  • OpenEdition Journals