Was climate change the reason behind fall of the Roman Empire?

Friday, January 14, 2011

WASHINGTON - A new study has linked climate change to the fall of the Roman Empire.

A prolonged period of wet weather triggered the spread of the Bubonic plague in medieval times and a 300-year long spell of unpredictable weather may have led to the decline of the Roman Empire, says the new study from the Swiss Federal Research Institute in Zurich, reports Discovery News.

Paleoclimatologist Ulf Buntgen and his colleagues created a database of more than 9,000 pieces of wood dating back 2,500 years from France and Germany.

They found the temperature and precipitation levels by measuring the width of annual growth rings in the wood. To get annual temperatures, they measured rings in high-altitude conifer trees and to gauge precipitation, they looked at tree ring widths in lower-elevation oaks.

Results indicated that the degree of climate change occurring now is unprecedented in the last 2,500 years.

Extreme and frequent shifts in weather patterns between 250 and 550, for instance, coincided with a period of exceptional upheaval in Europe’s political and economic situations.

When the weather began stabilizing, societies began to grow. Climate also seems to have played a role in the epidemic of Black Death. Wetter summers and a major cold snap could have caused famine and overall poor health, predisposing people to catch the plague.

David Stahle, a geoscientist at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, said the study offers new and extraordinary evidence for understanding the history of human societies.

“When they say 536 A.D., which is an exceptional year because of what was likely a massive volcanic eruption, they don’t mean 535 A.D. or maybe 534 A.D.,” he said.

“They mean 536 A.D. without a doubt. It’s nailed.”

Although correlations don’t prove anything, the findings help show how climate has acted as one of the many factors that changed the face of Roman Empire.

“It’s not a reach to say these extreme and prolonged climate activities could have affected the trajectory of social evolution.”

The study appears in the journal Science. (ANI)

Filed under: Science and Technology

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