EGU24-18736, updated on 20 Mar 2024
EGU General Assembly 2024
© Author(s) 2024. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Abandoned villages in the Catalan and Aranese Pyrenees during the Little Ice Age and the 20th Century: exploration of climate forcings through historical documents

Mercè Cisneros1,2,3, Josep Barriendos4, Mariano Barriendos5, Agustí Esteban i Amat, Cristina Simó6,7, Claudi Aventín-Boya8,9, and Javier Sigró1,10
Mercè Cisneros et al.
  • 1Centre for Climate Change, C3, Geography Department, Universitat Rovira i Virgili, 43480 Vila-seca, Spain. (
  • 2Universitat de Barcelona, Dept. Dinàmica de la Terra i de l’Oceà, Facultat de Ciències de la Terra, 08028 Barcelona, Spain
  • 3LabGEOTOP, Geo3BCN, Centro Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, (CSIC), 08028 Barcelona, Spain
  • 4Centre de Recerca Ecològica i Aplicacions Forestals (CREAF), Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 08193 Bellaterra, Spain
  • 5Instituto de Diagnóstico Ambiental y Estudios del Agua (IDAEA), CSIC, 08034 Barcelona, Spain.
  • 6Comissió Científica del Parc Natural de l’Alt Pirineu, 25595 Llavorsí, Spain
  • 7Ecomuseu de les Valls d’Àneu, 25580 Esterri d'Àneu, Spain
  • 8ARAN CULTURAU, 25530 Vielha, Spain
  • 9Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC)
  • 10Insitut Universitari de Recerca en Sostenibilitat, Canvi Climàtic i Transició Energètica (IU-RESCAT), Universitat Rovira i Virgili, 43480 Vila-seca, Spain

The unequivocal global warming of the climate system and the clear influence of human activities underscore the urgency of addressing the present challenge of Earth's warming. The exploration of past climate patterns presents significant opportunities in this regard.

Past climate information in high-mountain-areas, such as the Catalan or Aranese Pyrenees, is often still scarce. This is attributed to various reasons. On one hand, instrumental data series for these regions during the 20th century are not abundant and/or frequently start only from the 1960s. On the other hand, concerning climate information derived from historical documents for the past centuries in some of these regions, although its potential has been demonstrated in previous studies, it remains largely unexplored. Given all of this, it is not difficult to realize that these high-mountain-regions may exhibit a particular vulnerability in the face of current conditions of global warming. At the same time, its reactivity allows for the swift documentation of changes, as observed in the rapid regression of permanent Pyrenean glaciers over the past 50 years.

It is important to note that, given the strategic position of many of these locations as passages and border areas, especially from the mid-17th century onward, with the consolidation of European nation-states, there comes the implementation of the concept of political borders, various events throughout history (such as fires, wars, etc.) have led to the total or partial destruction of numerous documents. Frequently, the history of certain events is only preserved through oral accounts passed down from generation to generation.

Life in the Pyrenees has often been challenging, sustained by those individuals who have remained faithful, resisted, and persevered. The people of the Pyrenees have relied on the forest, pastures, and rather lean lands for their livelihood, and transportation has consistently posed difficulties. Additionally, sporadic phenomena of various kinds, whether historical, economic, or natural (avalanches, floods, earthquakes...), the latter strongly impacting the natural hazards in mountainous areas, have triggered changes in the villages or, in the worst cases, their abandonment and/or disappearance. The impact on these communities has often resulted from a combination of phenomena that is challenging to disentangle.

Here, we present an initial exploration of abandoned villages in the Catalan and Aranese Pyrenees during the Little Ice Age and the 20th century. The developed methodology includes the classification of depopulated areas based on various attributes: moment of disappearance, cause, altitude, and location. We have examined the climatic trends that could have affected the regions of the depopulated areas at different times. Causes include natural phenomena such as avalanches and landslides, as well as other factors like epidemics or plagues. The combination of these physical and biological factors can produce strong economic crisis at different scales. In extreme cases, this deterioration leds to the abandonment of specific villages. It is worth noting the centrifugal effect of large industrial and service agglomerations located in proximity, which have significantly contributed to the depopulation of Pyrenean settlements, whether seasonally (especially in the 19th century) or permanently (particularly in the 20th century).

How to cite: Cisneros, M., Barriendos, J., Barriendos, M., Esteban i Amat, A., Simó, C., Aventín-Boya, C., and Sigró, J.: Abandoned villages in the Catalan and Aranese Pyrenees during the Little Ice Age and the 20th Century: exploration of climate forcings through historical documents, EGU General Assembly 2024, Vienna, Austria, 14–19 Apr 2024, EGU24-18736,, 2024.