Was the Fall of the Roman Empire Related to Climate Change?
A recent study by a large team of scientists published in the journal Science, 2500 Years of European Climate Variability and Human Susceptibility, indicates that significant climate variations “have influenced the agricultural productivity, health risk, and conflict level of preindustrial societies” and their findings and historical experiences “may challenge recent political and fiscal reluctance to mitigate projected climate change.”
Here’s more on the study from NPR, which got a bit of a helpful translation from leading climate scientist Dr Michael Mann:
Ulf Buentgen and his team of researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research collected tree-ring data from ancient wood found in medieval castles and Roman ruins. They created a detailed history of climate change over the past 2.5 millennia and found the data point to the end of the Roman Empire as a period of exceptional climate change.
Michael Mann, professor of meteorology at Penn State, was not a member of the research team, but explains how the information found in tree rings changes what we know of the last centuries of Roman imperialism.
“They were able to tease out two pieces of information from these trees,” Mann explains. “They can get some idea of how warm the summers were, and how wet the sort of late-spring/early summer was.”
That’s because trees create a new ring each year. A big ring occurs in times of good climate, and a small ring occurs in years of drought or extreme temperatures. Wood samples from this time period show a climate flip-flopping unpredictably, which would have been bad for the Roman Empire.
“Like any large civilization — including the civilization we have today — it was highly dependent on predictability of natural resources,” Mann says. “It was very heavily adapted to the climate conditions that had persisted for centuries.”
Photo Credit: dirk huijssoon