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2004 11 18


Dates of wine harvests, carefully recorded each year in French parish churches and town halls for more than six centuries, have provided intriguing new clues about Europe's climate history, French researchers say.

A team led by Pascal Yiou used the dates to reconstruct temperatures in Burgundy from 1370 to 2003, using as the benchmark the Pinot Noir grape, which has been grown in the central French region since the Middle Ages.

The later the harvest began, the cooler the summer, while the earlier the harvest, the warmer the summer, a difference that Yiou says can be calculated to a hundredth of a degree.

By this estimate, the scorching temperatures of the 1990s have several local parallels, according to the study, published on Thursday in the journal Nature.

In the 1520s and in between the 1630s and 1680s, Burgundy experienced bouts of weather that were as warm as in the late 20th century.

After the 1680s event, there was a prolonged cooling which lasted until the 1970s.

The summer of 2003, when France was gripped by a heat wave that killed thousands of people, was "an unprecedented event," the researchers said.

"It appears to have been extraordinary, with temperatures that were probably higher than in any other year since 1370," they noted.

Other warm years were in the 1380s and the 1420s. Again, after the 1420s warm-up, there was a very cold period that ran to the end of the 1450s.

The team said their estimates have been corroborated by local evidence from preserved tree rings.

Trees add a ring to their trunk for every year of their life. The bigger the gap between rings, the better the growth, and the likelier that the weather that year was favorable. A narrower gap points to worse climate conditions.

Previous research by scientists says that human-made global warming, inflicted by the unrestricted burning of carbon-based fossil fuels, began to occur in the 1970s.

One of the most prominent researchers of so-called ‘global warming’ is Fred Singer. He is president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project in Arlington, Virginia, US.

Dr Singer said that many weather stations in apparently rural settings might experience a certain amount of heating from nearby settlements or even roads. "The only true rural records are proxy records, such as the ones from tree rings,"

Other types of proxy records - where natural processes are examined to provide an indication of past climate - include stalactites, fossil beds, ice cores, ocean sediments and glacial deposits.

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