At least we’re not living in 536

November 28, 2018

This year has not been without its challenges for many people around the world, but at least it’s not 536. That year is widely considered to have been the worst year to be alive, by scientists who evaluate such things. Clearly, ranking any year as the worst to be alive is a fairly subjective declaration, but by any measure the year 536 was a real bummer. A deep, dark fog enveloped Europe, the Middle East and much of Asia for that entire year, as light from the sun was no stronger than moonlight, causing temperatures to plunge and snow to fall in midsummer. Consequently, crops failed on a cataclysmic scale and scores of people starved to death. It took decades for humankind to recover.

Now researchers believe they know what happened in 536 to make it seem as if the world was ending. Analysis of glacial ice from Switzerland has been compared with various tree ring studies and chemical traces from volcanic rock in Iceland. The culprit for the fog of 536 now appears to be a huge volcanic eruption in Iceland that year, which was followed by additional eruptions in 540 and 547.

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