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Medieval Warm Period (Asia: Miscellaneous) -- Summary
Climate alarmists have long contended that the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) was not a worldwide phenomenon, primarily because that reality would challenge another of their major claims, i.e., that late 20th-century temperatures were the warmest of the past millennium or more. Thus, it is important to know what has been learned about this subject in different parts of the world; and in this summary attention is focused on Asian countries other than China, Russia and Japan, which are treated individually in other MWP Summaries.

In addition to China, Russia and Japan, the MWP has been identified in several other parts of Asia. Schilman et al. (2001), for example, analyzed foraminiferal oxygen and carbon isotopes, together with physical and geochemical properties of sediments, contained in two cores extracted from the bed of the southeastern Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Israel, where they found evidence for the MWP centered around AD 1200. And in discussing their findings, they make particular mention of the fact that there is an abundance of other well-documented evidence for the existence of the MWP in the Eastern Mediterranean, including, in their words, "high Saharan lake levels (Schoell, 1978; Nicholson, 1980), high Dead Sea levels (Issar et al. , 1989, 1991; Issar, 1990, 1998; Issar and Makover-Levin, 1996), and high levels of the Sea of Galilee (Frumkin et al. , 1991; Issar and Makover-Levin, 1996)," in addition to "a precipitation maximum at the Nile headwaters (Bell and Menzel, 1972; Hassan, 1981; Ambrose and DeNiro, 1989) and in the northeastern Arabian Sea (von Rad et al. , 1999)."

Further to the east, Kar et al. (2002) explored the nature of climate change preserved in the sediment profile of an outwash plain two to three km from the snout of the Gangotri Glacier in the Uttarkashi district of Uttranchal, Western Himalaya. Between 2000 and 1700 years ago, their data revealed the existence of a relatively cool climate. Then, from 1700 to 850 years ago, there was what they called an "amelioration of climate," during the transition from the depth of the Dark Ages Cold Period to the midst of the Medieval Warm Period. Subsequent to that time, Kar et al. 's data indicate the climate "became much cooler," indicative of its transition to Little Ice Age conditions, while during the last 200 years there has been a rather steady warming, as shown by Esper et al. (2002a) to have been characteristic of the entire Northern Hemisphere.

At a pair of other Asian locations, Esper et al. (2002b) used more than 200,000 ring-width measurements obtained from 384 trees at 20 individual sites ranging from the lower to upper timberline in the Northwest Karakorum of Pakistan (35-37°N, 74-76°E) and the Southern Tien Shan of Kirghizia (40°10'N, 72°35'E) to reconstruct regional patterns of climatic variations in Western Central Asia since AD 618. According to their analysis, the Medieval Warm Period was already firmly established and growing even warmer by the early 7th century; and between AD 900 and 1000, tree growth was exceptionally rapid, at rates that they say "cannot be observed during any other period of the last millennium."

Between AD 1000 and 1200, however, growing conditions deteriorated; and at about 1500, minimum tree ring-widths were reached that persisted well into the seventeenth century. Towards the end of the twentieth century, ring-widths increased once again; but Esper et al. (2002b) report that "the twentieth-century trend does not approach the AD 1000 maximum." In fact, there is almost no comparison between the two periods, with the Medieval Warm Period being far more conducive to good tree growth than the Modern Warm Period; for as the three researchers describe the situation, "growing conditions in the twentieth century exceed the long-term average, but the amplitude of this trend is not comparable to the conditions around AD 1000."

One year later, Esper et al. (2003) processed several extremely long juniper ring width chronologies for the Alai Range of the western Tien Shan in Kirghizia in such a way as to preserve multi-centennial growth trends that are typically "lost during the processes of tree ring data standardization and chronology building (Cook and Kairiukstis, 1990; Fritts, 1976)." And in doing so, they used two techniques that maintained low frequency signals: long-term mean standardization (LTM) and regional curve standardization (RCS), as well as the more conventional spline standardization (SPL) technique that obscures (actually removes) long-term trends.

Carried back in time a full thousand years, the SPL chronologies depict significant inter-decadal variations but no longer-term trends. The LTM and RCS chronologies, on the other hand, show long-term decreasing trends from the start of the record until about AD 1600, broad minima from 1600 to 1800, and long-term increasing trends from about 1800 to the present. And as a result, in the words of Esper et al. (2003), "the main feature of the LTM and RCS Alai Range chronologies is a multi-centennial wave with high values towards both ends."

This grand result has essentially the same form as the Northern Hemisphere extratropical temperature history of Esper et al. (2002a), which is vastly different from the hockeystick temperature history of Mann et al. (1998, 1999) and Mann and Jones (2003), in that it depicts the existence of both the Little Ice Age and preceding Medieval Warm Period, which are nowhere to be found in the Mann and Company reconstructions. In addition, the new result - especially the LTM chronology, which has a much smaller variance than the RCS chronology - depicts several periods in the first half of the last millennium that were warmer than any part of the last century. These periods include much of the latter half of the Medieval Warm Period and a good part of the first half of the 15th century, which has also been found to have been warmer than it is currently by McIntyre and McKitrick (2003) and by Loehle (2004).

In commenting on their important findings, Esper et al. (2003) remark that "if the tree ring reconstruction had been developed using 'standard' detrending procedures only, it would have been limited to inter-decadal scale variation and would have missed some of the common low frequency signal." Furthermore, a goodly portion of that trend may well have been due to the aerial fertilization effect of the concomitantly increasing atmospheric CO2 content, which is known to greatly stimulate the growth of trees. Properly accounting for this very real effect would make the warmer-than-present temperatures of the first half of the past millennium even warmer, relative to those of the past century, than what they appear to be in Esper et al. 's LTM and RCS reconstructions.

With the passage of two more years, Feng and Hu (2005) acquired decadal surface air temperatures for the last two millennia from ice core and tree-ring data obtained at five locations on the Tibetan Plateau. These data revealed that the late 20th century was the warmest period in the past two millennia at two of the sites (Dasuopu, ice core; Dunde, ice core); but such was not the case at the other three sites (Dulan, tree ring; South Tibetan Plateau, tree ring; Guilya, ice core). At Guilya, for example, the data indicated it was significantly warmer than it was in the final two decades of the 20th century for most of the first two centuries of the record, which comprised the latter part of the Roman Warm Period. At the South Tibetan Plateau it was also significantly warmer over another full century near the start of the record; while at Dulan it was significantly warmer for the same portion of the Roman Warm Period plus two near-century-long portions of the Medieval Warm Period, which observations do not bode well for the climate-alarmist claim that the late 20th century experienced temperatures that were unprecedented over the past two millennia, just as it also does not bode well for their refusal to recognize the existence of the millennial-scale climatic oscillation that sequentially brought the earth the Roman Warm Period, the Dark Ages Cold Period, the Medieval Warm Period, the Little Ice Age and the Modern Warm Period.

About this same time, Cini Castagnoli et al. (2005) extracted a δ13C profile of Globigerinoides rubber from a shallow-water core in the Gulf of Taranto (39°45'53"N, 17°53'33"E) to produce a high-precision record of climate variability over the past two millennia, after which it was statistically analyzed, together with a second two-millennia-long tree-ring record obtained from Japanese cedars (Kitagawa and Matsumoto, 1995), for evidence of recurring cycles using Singular Spectrum Analysis and Wavelet Transform, after which both records were compared with a 300-year record of sunspots. This effort revealed, in plots of both records, the existence of the Dark Ages Cold Period (~400-800 AD), the Medieval Warm Period (~800-1200 AD), the Little Ice Age (~1500-1800 AD) and the Current Warm Period, the roots of which can be traced to an upswing in temperature that began in the depths of the Little Ice Age "about 1700 AD."

Results of the statistical analyses also showed a common 11-year oscillation in phase with the Schwabe cycle of solar activity, plus a second multi-decadal oscillation (of about 93 years for the shallow-water G. rubber series and 87 years for the tree-ring series) in phase with the amplitude modulation of the sunspot number series over the last 300 years. And according to the three researchers, the overall phase agreement between the two climate reconstructions and the variations in the sunspot number series "favors the hypothesis that the [multi-decadal] oscillation revealed in δ13C from the two different environments is connected to the solar activity," which further suggests that a solar forcing was at work in both terrestrial and oceanic domains over the past two millennia. Thus, and once again, there is additional evidence for solar forcing of climate at decadal and multi-decadal time scales, as well as for the millennial-scale oscillation of climate that likely was responsible for the 20th-century warming of the globe that led to the demise of the Little Ice Age and ushered in the Current Warm Period.

One year later, based on a study of pollen and organic matter content and the magnetic susceptibility of radiocarbon-dated samples from a peat deposit in the Kumaon Higher Himalaya of India (30°3'N, 70°56'E), Phadtare and Pant (2006) developed a 3500-year palaeoclimate record of the Late Holocene. "With an abrupt rise in temperature as well as moisture at ~AD 400," in the words of the two scientists, "the climate suddenly turned warm and moist and remained so until ~AD 1260," which time interval, in their words, is "generally referred to as the Medieval Warm Period in the Northern Hemisphere." Over the ensuing century, they report that the climate turned cold and dry, but then warm and wet again, before turning "cold and moist during ~AD 1540-1730," which latter climate episode was said by them to "represent the Little Ice Age event in the Garhwal-Kumaon Himalaya."

Thereafter, the Indian researchers say "the climate has been persistently wet with relatively higher temperatures until ca. AD 1940, followed by a cooling trend that continued till the present," which dramatic modern cooling is also observed in the regional tree-ring record of Yadav et al. (2004), who used many long tree-ring series obtained from widely-spaced Himalayan cedar (Cedrus deodara (Roxb.) G. Don) trees growing on steep slopes with thin soil cover to develop a temperature history of the western Himalayas for the period AD 1226-2000. And "since the 16th century," in their words, "the reconstructed temperature shows higher variability as compared to the earlier part of the series (AD 1226-1500), reflecting unstable climate during the Little Ice Age (LIA)."

With respect to this greater variability of climate during colder conditions, they note that similar results have been obtained from juniper tree-ring chronologies from central Tibet (Braeuning, 2001), and that "historical records on the frequency of droughts, dust storms and floods in China also show that the climate during the LIA was highly unstable (Zhang and Crowley, 1989)." As for temperature itself, Yadav et al. report that 1944-1953 was the warmest 10-year mean of the entire 775-year record, and that "thereafter, temperatures decreased." With respect to this cooling, they note that it "is in agreement with the instrumental records." Also, they state that "tree-ring based temperature reconstructions from other Asian mountain regions like Nepal (Cook et al., 2003), Tibet and central Asia (Briffa et al., 2001) also document cooling during [the] last decades of the 20th century." In fact, the temperatures of the final two decades of Yadav et al.'s record appear to be as cold as those of any comparable period over the prior seven and a half centuries, including the coldest periods of the Little Ice Age, which result, as they indicate, is radically different from the temperature reconstruction of Mann and Jones (2003) that depicts "unprecedented warming in the 20th century."

Working concurrently to Phadtare and Pant, with a one-meter-deep sediment core retrieved from the Naychhudwari Bog (77°43'E, 32°30'N) of Himachal Pradesh, northern India, Chauhan (2006) derived abundance distributions of the various types of pollen deposited in the sediments of the alpine-region bog over the past 1300 years. Analyses of that pollen revealed the existence of two broad climatic episodes of warm-moist and cold-dry conditions, the first covering the period AD 650 to 1200 and the second from AD 1500 onwards. And "in the global perspective," as the Indian scientist describes it, the first period "is equivalent to the Medieval Warm Period, which has been witnessed in most parts of the world," while the second period "falls within the time-limit of [the] Little Ice Age."

Of the first of these two periods, Chauhan remarked that "the alpine belt of this region experienced warm and moist climate [and that] the glaciers receded and the tree-line ascended to higher elevations," which suggests the existence of a prior cooler and drier climate that equates with the Dark Ages Cold Period. Then, from AD 1500 onwards, Chauhan writes that "the glaciers advanced and consequently the tree-line descended under the impact of [the] cold and dry climate in the region," which suggests that (1) the region has not yet become as warm as it was during medieval times, or (2) if such a level of warmth has been achieved, its temporal existence falls far short of that of the much longer Medieval Warm Period, or (3) both of the above.

One year later, Bhattacharyya et al. (2007) developed a relative history of atmospheric warmth and moisture covering the last 1800 years for the region surrounding Paradise Lake - which is located in the Northeastern Himalaya at approximately 27°30.324'N, 92°06.269'E - based on pollen and carbon isotopic (δ13C) analyses of a one-meter-long sediment profile they obtained from a pit "dug along the dry bed of the lakeshore." In doing so, they found that their climatic reconstruction revealed a "warm and moist climate, similar to the prevailing present-day conditions," around AD 240 - which would represent the last part of the Roman Warm Period - as well as another such period that turned out to be "more warmer 1100 yrs BP (around AD 985) corresponding to the Medieval Warm Period." And the existence of these two periods - the former of which was at least as warm as the present, and the latter of which was actually warmer than the present - occurring at times when the atmosphere's CO2 concentration was more than 100 ppm less than it is today, clearly suggests that today's warmth could well be due to a repeat performance of whatever it was that produced the equally high and higher temperatures, respectively, of these two earlier warm periods.

Jumping ahead a couple of years, Treydte et al. (2009) note that "it is still uncertain whether the magnitude and rate of 20th century warming exceeds natural climate variability over the last millennium," citing in this regard the studies of Esper et al. (2002a, 2005a, 2005b), Moberg et al. (2005), D'Arrigo et al. (2006), Frank et al. (2007) and Juckes et al. (2007). And, therefore, they conducted yet another study to further address this hot-point issue, which is of crucial importance to the CO2-climate debate.

As they describe it, they developed "a millennium-long (AD 828-1998), annually resolved δ13C tree-ring chronology from high-elevation juniper trees in northern Pakistan [35.74-36.37°N, 74.56-74.99°W] together with three centennial-long (AD 1900-1998) δ13C chronologies from ecologically varying sites," in the process of which they defined an "optimum correction factor" that they deemed best suited to remove non-climatic trends from high-elevation trees in the Karakorum, in order to "provide new regional temperature reconstructions derived from tree-ring δ13C, and compare those records with existing regional evidence."

The end result of this analysis, as they describe it, was that the 1990s were "substantially below MWP temperatures," and they state that their reconstruction "provides additional suggestions that High Asian temperatures during the MWP might have exceeded recent conditions," which finding, in their words, is also suggested by "ring-width data from living trees (Esper et al. , 2007)." And as they thus concluded in the abstract of their paper, they say that they "find indications for warmth during the Medieval Warm Period" that imply summer temperatures "higher than today's mean summer temperature."

Two more years closer to the present, Park (2011) wrote that "information produced by climate modeling has become progressively more important to understand past climate changes as well as to predict future climates." However, the Korean researcher rightly states that "to evaluate the reliability of such climate model results, quantitative paleoclimate data are essential." Therefore, in a study designed to obtain just such "quantitative paleoclimate data" for a part of the world that has not been intensively studied in this regard, Park used modern surface pollen samples from the mountains along the east coast of Korea to derive pollen-temperature transfer functions, which were tested for robustness via detrended correspondence analysis and detrended canonical correspondence analysis, after which the best of these transfer functions was applied to the five fossil pollen records of Jo (1979), Chang and Kim (1982), Chang et al. (1987), Fuiki and Yasuda (2004) and Yoon et al. (2008), which were derived from four coastal lagoons of Korea's east coast plus one high-altitude peat bog.

Focusing on the late Holocene, and using results obtained from all five pollen data sets, Park determined that "the 'Medieval Warm Period', 'Little Ice Age' and 'Migration Period' were clearly shown," the former of which was identified as having occurred between AD 700 and 1200, the next of which was identified as having occurred between AD 1200 and 1700, and the latter of which was identified as having occurred between AD 350 and 700. The earliest of these periods is also commonly referred to as the Dark Ages Cold Period; but it is sometimes described as the Migration Period, as Park reports that it was a time "when people migrated southward in Europe because of deteriorating environmental conditions." Also of significance is the fact that the graphical representation of Park's temperature reconstruction indicates that the peak temperature of the Medieval Warm Period was only slightly lower (by about 0.18°C) than the peak temperature of the Current Warm Period, which occurs at the very end of the Korean temperature record.

The first important implication of Park's findings is the fact that they imply that "the various late-Holocene climate shifts all occurred in the Korean peninsula at the same time as in other regions of the world." The second important implication is that modern-day warming on the Korean peninsula is only slightly greater than what occurred there back in the Medieval Warm Period. And if one looks a little further back in Park's temperature reconstruction, it can be seen that approximately 2200 years ago it may actually have been slightly warmer than it was near the end of the 20th century AD, suggesting that there is nothing unusual or unnatural about the earth's current level of warmth.

Also with a paper appearing about this time was the research team of Kaniewski et al. (2011), who wrote that "according to model-based projections, the northern Arabian Peninsula, a crossroad between Mediterranean, continental and subtropical climates, will be extremely sensitive to greenhouse warming," citing the work of Alpert et al. (2008). And they state that "insights into past climate variability during historical periods in such climate hotspots are of major interest to estimate if recent climate trends are atypical or not over the last millennium," noting that "few palaeoenvironmental records span the MCA [Medieval Climate Anomaly = Medieval Warm Period (MWP)] and LIA [Little Ice Age] in the Middle East." Therefore, based on an analysis of pollen types and quantities found in a 315-cm sediment core retrieved from alluvial deposits within the floodplain of a spring-fed valley located at 35°22'13.16"N, 35°56'11.36"E in the coastal Syrian lowland, Kaniewski et al. converted the pollen data into Plant Functional Types (PFTs) that allowed them to construct pollen-derived Biomes (PdBs) similar to the regional studies of Tarasov et al. (1998), after which they were able to relate "the ratio of PdB warm steppe (WAST) divided by PdB cool steppe (COST) to local temperature, as also had been done a decade earlier by Tarasov et al. (1998).

This work revealed, in the words of the seven scientists, that their WAST/COST record "indicates that temperature changes in coastal Syria are coherent with the widely documented warming during the MCA and cooling during the LIA," the first of which epochs they assigned to the period of approximately AD 1000 to 1230, while the latter they assigned to approximately AD 1580 to 1850; and with respect to the Current Warm Period, they say that "modern warming appears exceptional in the context of the past 1250 years, since only three warm peaks of similar amplitude are registered during the High Middle Ages." However, they clearly state - in the very last sentence of their paper - that the "three peaks centered on ca. 1115, 1130 and 1170 cal yr AD suggest similar or warmer temperatures compared to AD 2000." And when one consults the actual plot of their WAST/COST record, it can be seen that the warmth of the first and last of these peaks was essentially identical to that centered on the end of the last century (AD 2000), while the central peak at AD 1130 was the warmest of them all.

Although they do not directly say it in their paper, the findings of Kaniewski et al. thus do indeed reveal whether or not "recent climate trends are atypical or not over the last millennium." And the answer is: They are not ... at least not in the region of Syria they studied, and not in most of the other parts of the world for which there is evidence of the MWP. And this result clearly suggests that earth's current level of warmth need not be attributed to the current high level of the air's CO2 content; for the peak warmth of the MWP was even greater than it has been over the past couple of decades, and at a time when the air's CO2 concentration was approximately 100 ppm less than it is today, which suggests that whatever phenomenon was responsible for the warmth of the Medieval Warm Period could also be responsible for the warmth of the Current Warm Period; and that something would have to be something other than CO2.

In conclusion, as ever more real-world temperature data continue to be obtained, and as more correct procedures are employed to analyze them, Asia's (and the world's) true temperature histories are becoming ever more clear; and what's beginning to take shape will ultimately spell the end of the IPCC's ill-conceived rush to judgment on identifying both the nature and the cause of the post-Little Ice Age climatic amelioration of the planet.

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Last updated 9 October 2013