The Spectacle Blog

Angkor What?!

Listening to climate paranoiacs, you'd think that "extreme weather events" were unique to our current era of hysteria.

By on 4.13.10 | 11:44AM

Listening to climate paranoiacs, you'd think that "extreme weather events" were unique to our current era of hysteria. But new research shows the ancient Khmer empire likely collapsed, at least in part, due to some wild climatological swings, despite the lack of human-caused greenhouse gases: 

Modern-day visitors to the ruins at Angkor Wat can see, in addition to the ornately carved Buddhist temple, remnants of a massive and intricate system of waterways, dikes and holding ponds.

But the city declined, finally succumbing to Thai invaders in 1431. A group of researchers say they believe they have at least a partial answer to the mystery of its collapse: Two major droughts, and some follow-up flooding, probably weakened the city's agricultural base and left it vulnerable to disease and invasion.

"The Angkor droughts were of a duration and severity that would have impacted the sprawling city's water supply and agricultural productivity, while high-magnitude monsoon years damaged its water control infrastructure," the researchers wrote in a recent Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences....

Environmental change pushed the ancient Khmers to the limit and they weren't able to adapt," lead researcher Brendan Buckley, a climate scientist and tree-ring specialist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said in a statement. "I wouldn't say climate caused the collapse, but a 30-year drought had to have had an impact."

If only they had modern-day environmentalists to advise them, it all could have been avoided.

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