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Physical Geography of Northern Eurasia

Climate at Present and in the Historical Past

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Climate Change within the Historical Period: Sources of Information

Having discussed the present-day climate of Northern Eurasia, this chapter will now address the question of how the climate has varied in the historical past. The previous chapter has discussed climatic and environmental change in the Cenozoic while the following chapters, dealing with regional environments, will address regional climatic change with particular reference to the Pleistocene and the Holocene. The term 'historical' loosely describes the period during which some form of written documentation is available. For the Crimea, Transcaucasia, Central Asia, and parts of the southern Far East, this is a few thousand years. For central and north-western European Russia, the Baltic region and the northern Ukraine, this is about 1000 years. For the rest of Eurasia, from the Volga to the Pacific, the historical period encompasses a few hundred years. The best sources of information are instrumental meteorological records. The second best source is non-instrumental written records of actual weather or related phenomena, such as river flow or the formation of sea ice. Many human activities, especially agricultural production, depend on weather and so documentation of non-meteorological but weather-related issues (e.g., crop prices or tax records) can be used to obtain historical meteorological data. Lacking this, rigorous methodologies have been developed to reconstruct past climates from various proxy sources, such as archaeological artefacts, tree rings, ice, and sediment cores. These have been successfully used to derive climatic information for the region east of the Volga as no or extremely little written evidence is available for it prior to the middle of the 16th century. A useful summary of climatic information, derived from proxy sources, is provided by Velichko (1984), while Graybill and Shiyatov (1992) and Briffa et al. (1995) discuss reconstructions of the past climate based on tree-ring analysis. This chapter will focus on written evidence and instrumental records.

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