Was the Medieval Warm Period warmer than the Twentieth Century?

By Erik Gooding, Nick Jones, and Colby Washington 


We have found a lot of information about the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) (From 950 to 1250 A.D.) but it isn’t always clear cut. But overall it seems that the information leads to no it was not. All the information claims the MWP was 1-degree Celsius warmer than today, but this information was posted all from different times. An example of this is that people are backing this claim from the 1970s and people are saying the same thing today, but we know that the temperature has risen since the 70s. So how can the MWP be 1 degree warmer than the 70s and now? A lot of the information is acquired from ice cores which can capture the climate and events in history well. Another way to learn about history is from tree rings, which show nothing about the MWP, but trees are not typically affected by warming periods. The topic of the MWP has been controversial for a long time ever since it was discovered in the 50s. We have decided that the MWP was not warmer than today as our temperature now is anything but normal. 

Why This Question is Important 

This question is important to know now because we are currently experiencing a similar anomaly with Global Warming although on a bigger scale.  

So, today’s climate change may be a result of natural occurrence rather than humans being the only cause. Just like how the MWP was warmer due to natural occurrences like increased solar activity or decreased volcanic activity. A similar warm period also occurred during the roman time giving more support for a natural climate change. So, it is just saying that the Earth has experienced periods of warming not related to humans. So, the warming today may not be related to human involvement at all but rather just natural warming.  

Issues and Analysis 

Did the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) have higher temperatures than the twentieth century? From the information researched, no. But each article read was dated drastically different and they all said that the Medieval Warm Period was 1-degree Celsius higher than today. Even if that article was made in the 1970s or today, they all say it was one degree warmer. Realistically the global temperature has gone up in the past 100+ years so we can’t be confident that the MWP was warmer than today.  

The MWP was most likely global not just regional, which means it was a global anomaly just like today and not just a regional occurrence. This allows for different agriculture in parts of the world that usually wouldn’t allow it. Which means it allowed parts of Europe to grow and expand, building new cities, and grain crops thriving. This period also allowed Vikings to move more north and eventually they colonized Greenland. The other product that thrived during this time in Europe were the vineyards. With the increase in temperature it allowed farmers to grow grapes at an elevation of 780m where the grapes usually had to be grown at 560m.  

Scientists don’t know exactly what caused this sudden spike in temperature, but research has linked it to increased solar activity, decreased volcanic activity, and changes to the ocean circulation. There is no conclusive data out there to say whether the MWP was warmer than the 20th century.  


This graph shows the change in global temperature in the past. You can see where the MWP is and the fluctuations in temperature during that time period. During this time, it had a high peak in temperature which was surpassed in the 2000s. It also shows the Little Ice Age and how low the temperatures were during this time. At the very end you can see the slow rise in temperature n around the 2000s.  

This graph shows a more detailed view of rising temperatures today. Since 1980, the temperature has risen 0.5 degrees Celsius and have begun to steadily rise.