The last ice age 13,000 years ago took hold in just one year, more than ten times quicker than previously believed, scientists have warned.
Rather than a gradual cooling over a decade, the ice age plunged Europe into the deep freeze, German Research Centre for Geosciences at Potsdam said.
Cold, stormy conditions caused by an abrupt shift in atmospheric circulation froze the continent almost instantly during the Younger Dryas less than 13,000 years ago – a very recent period on a geological scale.
The new findings will add to fears of a serious risk of this happening again in the UK and western Europe – and soon.
Dr Achim Brauer, of the GFZ (GeoForschungs Zentrum) German Research Centre for Geosciences at Potsdam, and colleagues analysed annual layers of sediments, called "varves", from a German crater lake.
Each varve records a single year, allowing annual climate records from the region to be reconstructed.