A new study has suggested that a volcanic eruption that happened in 1600 in the Andes mountains may have plunged the world into cold climate chaos.
According to a report in nature News, the eruption of the volcano, known as Huaynaputina, blanketed nearby villages with glowing rock and ash, killing some 1,500 people.
But it may also have had a far wider effect, by injecting sulphur particles high into the atmosphere and disrupting the climate worldwide.
Geoscientists had known that the eruption was big, but the new research addresses for the first time just how it might have changed society the world over.
"We're talking about sudden and abrupt change over a very short period of time," said Kenneth Verosub, a geologist at the University of California, Davis. "What would that have done to the global agricultural economy?" he added.
For their research, Verosub and his coauthor, student Jake Lippman, trawled through historical records of crops, famines and other events in the years just after the Huaynaputina eruption.
According to them, the year 1601 featured several climate discrepancies.
Tree-ring records show that it was the coldest year in six centuries in the Northern Hemisphere - possibly due to the cooling caused by the sulphur particles spewed from the volcano.
The effect was felt on the other side of the globe, where a severe winter caused famine in Russia. Snow blanketed Sweden, leading to record flooding and a poor harvest.
ine harvests were late in France. In Japan, Lake Suwa froze far earlier than usual. Galleons travelling from Mexico to the Philippines made the trip significantly faster than normal, perhaps because of altered wind patterns.
"What we find is that 1601 was among the coldest or wettest or worst years, in many cases," said Verosub.
"Some of these events have previously been attributed to the centuries-long cooling trend known as the Little Ice Age - but they may more properly be ascribed to Huayaputina," he added.
According to Georgiy Stenchikov, a climate modeller at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the research is some of the first to address the sociological effects of the Huaynaputina eruption.
"It's very important to try to understand and uncover how volcanic eruptions affect climate and society, to see how society responded to the stress," he said.