Climate Science Glossary

Term Lookup

Enter a term in the search box to find its definition.


Use the controls in the far right panel to increase or decrease the number of terms automatically displayed (or to completely turn that feature off).

Term Lookup


All IPCC definitions taken from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Annex I, Glossary, pp. 941-954. Cambridge University Press.

Home Arguments Software Resources Comments The Consensus Project Translations About Support

Bluesky Facebook LinkedIn Mastodon MeWe

Twitter YouTube RSS Posts RSS Comments Email Subscribe

Climate's changed before
It's the sun
It's not bad
There is no consensus
It's cooling
Models are unreliable
Temp record is unreliable
Animals and plants can adapt
It hasn't warmed since 1998
Antarctica is gaining ice
View All Arguments...

New? Register here
Forgot your password?

Latest Posts


How does the Medieval Warm Period compare to current global temperatures?

What the science says...

Select a level... Basic Intermediate

While the Medieval Warm Period saw unusually warm temperatures in some regions, globally the planet was cooler than current conditions.

Climate Myth...

Medieval Warm Period was warmer

"For now, though, it is enough just to see the Medieval WARM Period shown to be global, and warmer than today." (Musings from the Chiefio)

At a glance

To explore this topic, the first question must surely be: what was the Medieval Warm Period? The answer lies in the dim and distant past, in modern human terms, that is. Compared to the age of the Earth, at 4.5 billion years, it is a fraction of a very small fraction of a blink of the eye. Nevertheless, let's continue.

The period of time known to archaeologists as the Common Era (CE) roughly covers the past 2000 years. Decades ago it was divided into a series of climate epochs. Although there is no firm consensus regarding their precise duration, the 'Roman Warm Period' covered the first few centuries. The 'Dark Ages Cold Period' was from around 400-800 CE, the 'Medieval Warm Period' was from 800-1200 CE and the 'Little Ice-Age' was from 1200-1850 CE.

Each of these climatic epochs has its origin in old pieces of paleoclimatic evidence from the Northern Hemisphere. Decades ago, it was assumed each such epoch must have been global in extent. But since that time, climatology has steadily moved on. More new ways of reconstructing the Common Era climate have been discovered and refined. Coverage has been extended from those few Northern Hemisphere localities to the entire globe.

Thanks to such improvements, we now know that many of these warming and cooling events were regional, not global effects. The evidence no longer supports the idea of epochs of globally coherent and synchronous climate. Yes it was warm in Europe in the Medieval Warm Period. However, it was much cooler, for example, over the Pacific than it is today.

The coldest epoch of the last millennium is known as the Little Ice Age. But here too, the effects were not the same everywhere at the same time, as pointed out in a recent paper published in Nature. Its authors commented that peak cold occurred at widely-spaced locations hundreds of years apart. Coldest temperatures occurred during the fifteenth century in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. But by the seventeenth century it was coldest in northwestern Europe and southeastern North America.

In contrast the same study found that the warmest period of the past two millennia occurred during the 20th century. The warmth affects more than 98% of the globe. That constitutes solid evidence that modern human-caused global warming is unusual. As the paper says, it is, "unparalleled in terms of absolute temperatures and also unprecedented in global coverage within the past 2,000 years".

Please use this form to provide feedback about this new "At a glance" section. Read a more technical version below or dig deeper via the tabs above!

Further details

One of the most often cited arguments of those who deny anthropogenic global warming is that the Medieval Warm Period (800-1200 AD) was as warm, or even warmer, than today. Using this as proof to say that we cannot be causing current warming is a faulty notion based upon rhetoric rather than science. So what are the holes in this line of thinking?

Firstly, increasing evidence suggests that the Medieval Warm Period may have been warmer than today in parts of the globe such as in the North Atlantic. The warming thereby allowed Vikings to travel further north than had been previously possible because of reductions in sea ice and land ice in the Arctic. However, evidence also suggests that some places were much cooler than today, including the tropical Pacific. All in all, when the warm places are averaged out with the cool places, it becomes clear that the overall warmth was likely similar to early to mid 20th Century warming.

Since that early 20th Century warming, global temperatures have risen well beyond those reached during the Medieval Warm Period. The National Academy of Sciences released a report on climate reconstructions in 2006. In the Overview chapter, the authors stated it was 'likely' that current temperatures are hotter than during the Medieval Warm Period, saying the following:

"Presently available proxy evidence indicates that temperatures at many, but not all, individual locations were higher during the past 25 years than during any period of comparable length since A.D. 900".

Further evidence obtained since 2006 suggests that even in the Northern Hemisphere, temperatures have now gone well beyond those experienced during Medieval times (Figure 1). This was also confirmed by a major paper from 78 scientists representing 60 scientific institutions around the world in 2013. A Skeptical Science blog-post about the publication may be read here.

Northern Hemisphere Temperature Reconstruction. 

Figure 1: Northern Hemisphere Temperature Reconstruction by Moberg et al. (2005) shown in blue, Instrumental Temperatures from NASA shown in Red.

Secondly, the Medieval Warm Period has known causes. These explain both the scale of the warmth and its regional pattern. Importantly, both self-evidently differ from the modern-day warming caused predominantly by human activities. Based on global paleoclimate reconstructions over the past 2,000 years, a 2019 study found absolutely no evidence for pre-industrial globally-coherent cold or warm epochs. Instead, it found that the warmest period of the past two millennia occurred during the twentieth century and covered more than 98% of the globe. The paper concluded, "not only unparalleled in terms of absolute temperatures but also unprecedented in spatial consistency within the context of the past 2,000 years."

In the same paper, the authors commented that, in particular, the coldest epoch of the last millennium, long referred to as the Little Ice Age, seems to have seen peak cold at widely-spaced locations and hundreds of years apart, strongly emphasising both the regionality and non-synchronicity of the events. Coldest temperatures occurred, "during the fifteenth century in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean, during the seventeenth century in northwestern Europe and southeastern North America, and during the mid-nineteenth century over most of the remaining regions."

Overall, our conclusions are:

  1. Globally temperatures are warmer than they have been during the last 2,000 years;
  2. Both warmth and cold seem to have occurred at times in the last 2000 years but only on a regional and non-synchronous basis.
  3. the causes of Medieval warming are not the same as those causing late 20th century warming.

Last updated on 9 May 2024 by John Mason. View Archives

Printable Version  |  Offline PDF Version  |  Link to this page

Argument Feedback

Please use this form to let us know about suggested updates to this rebuttal.


Many thanks to gp2 who generated the temperature pattern for the last decade based on NOAA data.

Denial101x video

Here is a related lecture-video from Denial101x - Making Sense of Climate Science Denial:


Prev  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  Next

Comments 201 to 225 out of 272:

  1. I agree that the few barley grains found could have been imported.  It is logical that the earliest Vikings would have experimented with cereals.  These experiments might well have failed given the short growing season both then and now.  Henrickssen, however, believes that these grains were locally harvested.  

  2. "My interpretation of D'Anrea's studies is that he believes in present day CO2 induced global warming."

    Meaning what? That therefore his data must be wrong?

  3. What about these studies using senentments ect indicating the MWP was global? Shows a NYT reporter intervieweing 2 scientist who measured sentiment samples around Indonesia.  Look at 11:15

    MWP in China

  4. aristotelian...  Making the rounds at all the climate denial sites, I see.

    What WUWT, CO2Science and Science&PublicPolicy are not going to tell you is that there are many places where no MWP shows up at all. Such as, the Tibetan Plateau.

  5. re: "aristotelian... Making the rounds at all the climate denial sites, I see.

    What WUWT, CO2Science and Science&PublicPolicy are not going to tell you is that there are many places where no MWP shows up at all. Such as, the Tibetan Plateau."  

    Where talking about 1000 and 2000 (Roman Warm Period) years ago.  I don't see how the absence of evidence is evidence of absence in this case.

  6. Also, one of these links is a video of a NYT reporter interview scientists. As a layman, who am I more likely to believe, some random website I found the immiediatly lables someone "a denier" which is a clear reference to the holocost deniers so is a gross ad hominin attack or some scientists interviewed by the NYT?


    [TD] Nearly every claim on Skeptical Science is backed up with references to, and often links to, scientifically peer reviewed publications.  Those are even more reliable than interviews with scientists, because some scientists make claims in interviews,  editorial writings, and web sites that they are unable to make in peer reviewed publications, due to the strict quality controls over peer reviewed publications.

  7. aristotelian, you misinterpreted Rob's reply.  When he wrote "where no MWP shows up at all" he did not mean absence of evidence of the temperature.  He meant there is solid evidence of the temperature, and that temperature was not anomalously warm. That is existence of evidence, not absence of evidence.  Click the Intermediate tab at the top of the original post on this page, to see more evidence.

  8. Thanks, Tom. That makes more senese.

  9. Aristolean,

    This Skeptical Science article describes an article written by 78 climate researchers who combined data from around the world to make a graph of the temperature for the last 2000 years.  The MWP does not show up in analysis that combine all the world data.  The MWP was evident in some areas, but other areas were colder at the same time so the global temperature was not warmer.  By contrast, in the current warming everywhere is warmer.  It is possible to find warm areas somewhere in the World at almost any time in the past you choose, they are just balanced by other cold areas.  Do you believe a careful analysis by 78 scientists or a blog post on WUWT?  (note this confirms Mann's Hockey stick data, again)

    In general, WUWT leaves out most of the data.  You can make anything appear to be true if you leave out enough data.  The IPCC report does not leave out any data and they find no MWP.

  10. aristotelian...  Three of the four references you provided are well known AGW denial sites. I've spent a large amount of time going through the MWP material shown on CO2 Science, in particular. Many of their written synoses of the research actually contradict the actual research they present. And they, curiously, do not (though they are clearly capable) endeavor to sythesize the data into any kind of multiproxy reconstruction.

    The other thing you'll notice at CO2 Science is that, what they call the MWP does not occur at the same time in all the datasets. And this is clearly pointed out in most of the research, but CO2 Science goes to great lengths to hide this fact.

    When you read the actual research papers what you find is that the MWP was "heterogeneous." That is, it's not homogenous. It occurs at different times, at different places. And it doesn't occur at all in still other places.

    When people go to such lengths, as CO2 Science does, to hide this elemental fact, then yes, I call those denial websites.

  11. aristotelian... Whenever you hear someone say (or see it stated somewhere) that the MWP was global, ask one simple question: "Was the MWP heterogeneous?"

    That's all you have to say.

  12. Is the current Global Warming trend hetetrogeneious?  If the artice shelf melting was not a indicator of global warming 1000 yeears ago, why is it considered an indicator, today?

  13. Aristotelian, SkS is not some random website and if you believe so, you have not paid any attention. It won the Eureka Prize of the Australian Musem for advancement of climate knowledge. That's not a popular online vote in which everybody who has no clue can click and bots can click automatically. Every SkS article is backed up by peer-reviewed science papers, readers are encouraged to explore them, so the kind of dissimulation that happens at Idso's site can't happen. Several of the SkS moderators have had publications in high impact science journals in the past 3 years. In comparison, it took years for Watts to publish one paper, and when he did, it failed to confirm the very premise to the existence of his website. It also brought nothing new to previous publications by others that had already done that.

    So really ,the choice is between a website with established expertise demonstrated by winning awards from scientific organizations and a record of publications in the field, against some random interview in the NYT. That is a much better representation of reality in this case. 

  14. Aristotelian...  This is definitely not a 1000 year representation, but it gives you a better idea of the changes in spacial distribution of temperature on the planet for the past 150 years.

  15. aristotelian...  RE: "artice shelf melting"

    It would be helpful if you could provide links to what you're referring to.

  16. And to answer your question, modern warming is homogeneous, whereas the MWP was heterogeneous. Peaks of MWP warming occur during a span of about 600-800 years. Some places it was as early as 1400 years ago, some places as recent as 600 years ago.

    If you go back to the CO2 Science site and look closely at all the graphs they present, you can clearly see this.

  17. MWP has warming occuring in different places at different times and not at all in some places. Warming now is occuring at different rates in different places, but the whole planet is warming. eg see here spatial distribution for warming since 1980. Compare that with spatial distribution during the MWP shown in the intermediate version of this article.

  18. Aristotelian,

    This Wikipedia article describes the break up of the Ward Ice shelf on North Elesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic from 2002-2010.  It was a remnant of the Ellesmere Island Ice Shelf which was 3,000 years old when discovered in 1875 (dated using drift wood on the inner surface of the shelf).  Virtually all of the Arctic ice shelves have melted since their discovery, this is only the first hit of a Google search.  The shelf survived the MWP and has melted with modern AGW.  Since the ice shelf was 3,000 years old, how could the MWP have been warmer, even in the Canadian Arctic where it was presumably the warmest?  

    Please provide a link for your supposed Ice shelf melting during the MWP.  Perhaps your sources of information are feeding you fabricated data.  That is why they are called deniers.





    [JH] The use of all-caps is strictly prohibited by the SkS Comments Policy. Please read the Policy and adhere to it.

  20. Myles, the existence of megadroughts in the past does not disprove the human-causational component of the modern warming period nor does it offer support for the denier meme "the Medieval Warm Period was warmer".

  21. Myles - You've pointed to some data on the American West, which is a region representing less than 2% of the globe. Regional variations are weather, not climate, and if you examine the global data the Medieval Warm Period was just not as warm as the world is today. 

  22. Myles... Just to clarify, the MWP is generally believed to be a heterogeneous event, meaning it didn't happen globally and at the same time. We know that there have been periods of local warmth that exceeded global average temperature today.

    What you don't find is evidence that the global temperature during the middle ages was warmer than global temperature today.

    This is a very common trick pulled by fake skeptics. They will point you to a regional event during the middle ages, call it the MWP, and then compare it to global average temperature today.

  23. Just assume Myles is correct of a moment.  That is, assume the MWP was warmer than it currently is, and that it caused series of one hundred year droughts in the SW of the USA.  It would follow that as the world continues to warm with AGW, we can expect the start of such a series of megadroughts in the SW of the USA.  That should make Myles want to do all he can to avoid ongoing warming.  Is that right Myles?

    In fact, we already see the signs of the in the SW of the USA.  From the site to which Myles linked we have this graph:


    Attentive readers will notice that the drought extent in 2002 extended 80% of the area, far more than the at most 60% seen in the MWP.  I understand there have been worse droughts in the area since then.  Using SW US drought as a proxy for global temperature, we therefore must conclude that it is already warmer than at any time during the MWP.  And expected to get warmer so that we can expect worse droughts still.  

  24. Hi, 

    I encountered the following argument:

    <statement>The earth is now definitely cooler than during the Roman Warm Period.

    There are passes in the Alps that the Romans used, today they are covered in ice.

    The tree line was hundreds of meters higher 3000 years ago, we still find remnants of trees under glaciers.</statement>

    I have no idea if these statements are correct, can anyone point me to the relevant literature ?


  25. bvangerven--

    1. "The earth is now definitely cooler than during the Roman Warm Period"

    It's fairly clear from global Marcott et al. 2013 that the Roman Warming Period was not globally warmer than the present.  

    2. "There are passes in the Alps that the Romans used, today they are covered in ice.  The tree line was hundreds of meters higher 3000 years ago, we still find remnants of trees under glaciers."

    Note regional Marcott.  The Northern hemisphere (north of 30) was likely warmer than present (though Marcott's uncertainty for 20th c. temps is large).  It may be that the Alps were responding to a greater forcing during the RWP.  How about the rest of the globe?  Take a look at Funder et al. 2011 and see if the RWP is noticeable (note that Funder ends in 2000).

    Regardless, what's the point?  Even if the RWP were warmer than present, what would it mean, other than the possibility that climate sensitivty is greater than the current mainstream range?  If the RWP was warmer, does it mean that global warming is going to stop? 

Prev  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  Next

Post a Comment

Political, off-topic or ad hominem comments will be deleted. Comments Policy...

You need to be logged in to post a comment. Login via the left margin or if you're new, register here.

Link to this page

The Consensus Project Website


(free to republish)

© Copyright 2024 John Cook
Home | Translations | About Us | Privacy | Contact Us