Investigations of the impacts of past volcanic eruptions on climate, environment, and society require accurate chronologies. However, eruptions that are not recorded in historical documents can seldom be dated exactly. Here we use annually resolved radiocarbon (14C) measurements to isolate the 775 CE cosmogenic 14C peak in a subfossil birch tree that was buried by a glacial outburst flood in southern Iceland. We employ this absolute time marker to date a subglacial eruption of Katla volcano at late 822 CE to early 823 CE. We argue for correlation between the 822–823 CE eruption and a conspicuous sulfur anomaly evident in Greenland ice cores, which follows in the wake of an even larger volcanic signal (ca. 818–820 CE) as yet not attributed to a known eruption. An abrupt summer cooling in 824 CE, evident in tree-ring reconstructions for Fennoscandia and the Northern Hemisphere, suggests a climatic response to the Katla eruption. Written historical sources from Europe and China corroborate our proposed tree ring–radiocarbon–ice core linkage but also point to combined effects of eruptions occurring during this period. Our study describes the oldest precisely dated, high-latitude eruption and reveals the impact of an extended phase of volcanic forcing in the early 9th century. It also provides insight into the existence of prehistoric woodland cover and the nature of volcanism several decades before Iceland’s permanent settlement began.

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