2500 Years of European Climate Variability and Human Susceptibility


2001-01-25 Science
Evidence of social upheaval and other adverse effects of climate variability in Europe over the past 2,500 years should give pause to people reluctant to mitigate climate change.

Tree Rings

© iStockphoto.com/Hamidebrahimi

Climate variations have influenced the agricultural productivity, health risk, and conflict level of preindustrial societies. Discrimination between environmental and anthropogenic impacts on past civilizations, however, remains difficult because of the paucity of high-resolution palaeoclimatic evidence. Here, we present tree ring–based reconstructions of Central European summer precipitation and temperature variability over the past 2500 years. Recent warming is unprecedented, but modern hydroclimatic variations may have at times been exceeded in magnitude and duration. Wet and warm summers occurred during periods of Roman and medieval prosperity. Increased climate variability from ~AD 250 to 600 coincided with the demise of the Western Roman Empire and the turmoil of the Migration Period. Historical circumstances may challenge recent political and fiscal reluctance to mitigate projected climate change.

References
Büntgen, U. et al. 2500 years of European climate variability and human susceptibility. Science doi:10.1126/science.1197175 (2011).

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