Adapting to climate change in the northern Baltic Sea region, AD 1500–1900

The project aims to yield new insights into the processes that shape adaptation to the effects of climate change. The first stage will be to explore how, and to what extent, variations in climate actually impacted people and societies in the northern Baltic Sea region – present-day Sweden, Finland and Estonia – from the 16th to 19th centuries. The second stage will be to examine how societies in the northern Baltic Sea region adapted or did not adapt to climatic change.

The unusually long time perspective, combined with a holistic and interdisciplinary approach, allows a systematic examination of historical climate adaptation in a way that enables the researchers to draw conclusions from the past that are relevant to present-day policy-making. In addition, the researchers will be developing tools that can be used by other historians to contribute to research into climate adaptation.

The project comprises two separate but partly overlapping work packages that examine the effect of climate change on agriculture and winter transport, respectively, as well as adaptation to that change in the respective sectors. The study will be the largest of its kind carried out for the Nordic region, and is unique in crossing current political, linguistic and disciplinary boundaries. The project is also ground-breaking in an international perspective because the questions it poses have been framed in the same way as in contemporary research into the consequences of climate change and adapting to them.

Over the past ten years or so research on climate history has emerged as a dynamic interdisciplinary field in many parts of Europe, but has so far only had a limited impact in the Nordic countries. This research project will help to establish climate history as a dynamic research field, cutting across traditional disciplinary boundaries, in Sweden. It is a multidisciplinary project, combining methods and data from history with methods and data from physical geography/palaeoclimatology. A combination of quantitative and qualitative methods are being used to study crops (tithe tax data), demographic fluctuations (census data), temperature and precipitation (early meteorological measurements), growing season climate conditions (tree-ring data), ice conditions for shipping (customs accounts) and various descriptive sources such as administrative letters and reports.

The project’s expected contribution comprises 1) estimating how climate impacts in the northern Baltic Sea region have varied over time and in geographical extent, and how successful different adaptation strategies have been; 2) achieving a better understanding of how different groups have been impacted by climate variability in the northern Baltic Sea region, and what technology and cultural aspects have been deployed in the adaptation process; and 3) developing new tools for the study of historical climate adaptation so that the results from those studies can be used in current and future climate adaptation efforts.

The aim is to examine long-term dynamic adaptation processes from various societal, economic and cultural angles in order to generate results that demonstrate how historical research can actually contribute to knowledge on successful climate adaptation.

“Adapting to climate change in the northern Baltic Sea region, AD 1500–1900”

Principal investigator:
Professor Fredrik Charpentier Ljungqvist 

Stockholm University

SEK 5.1 million