European colonization of the Americas contributed to the advent of the 17th century “little ice-age,” a new study says. As some 55 million indigenous people were wiped out, their farmland turned into forest and sucked out CO2.
Much of the continental US may feel like it is living through a ‘mini ice age’ due to the polar vortex weather pattern. But while this will come and go, there was a proper global drop in temperatures about four centuries ago, which is commonly called the “little ice age.” A team of scientists from University College London says that humans are partially to blame for it, and in particular Europeans going to the New World for treasure and new life.
While there were some natural reasons behind the oddball phenomenon, much of it still remains behind a veil of mystery. The British researchers argue that they have found a missing link – the “Great Dying” of indigenous people as result of the European conquest. The researchers found that some 56 million hectares of land were abandoned by the native population of the Americas as they fled or died due to epidemics, war, slavery and subsequent famine. Those lands were reclaimed by forests that, in turn, absorbed so much carbon dioxide that the process cooled the Earth.
“The resulting terrestrial carbon uptake had a detectable impact on both atmospheric CO2 and global surface air temperatures in the two centuries prior to the Industrial Revolution,” argues the study, published in the Quaternary Science Reviews.
Using a combination of counting methods, the researchers found that prior to the arrival of Europeans in 1492 the Americans were inhabited by some 60.5 million people. About 95 percent of them, or 56 million, died by 1600.
Some 55.8 million hectares (138.3 million acres) of what was previously farmland was reclaimed by the forests and led to a 7.4 pentagram carbon uptake, according to the paper. One petagram (Pg) of carbon is equivalent to a billion metric tons.
“These changes show that the Great Dying of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas is necessary for a parsimonious explanation of the anomalous decrease in atmospheric CO2,” the paper notes.
According to the researches, one of the most important highlights of their study is that humans had been already trigging climate change some two centuries prior the industrial revolution.