how climate change affected a civilization

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Thrive against all odds

The Tibetan Empire was an amazing historical phenomenon that thrived in a region where altitude alone would deter most civilizations.

At the height of its power, between AD 618 and 877, it controlled vast areas and had considerable resources, while coping with environmental problems such as hypoxia, in which oxygen levels are 40% lower than at sea level.

However, its demise remains a mystery that researchers recently unraveled by studying climate change.

Unlocking the mystery through paleolimnology

Zhitong Chen and his team from the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research have used the geological record of lake sediments (palaeolimnology) to study climatic conditions during the empire’s existence.

They detected a shift from planktonic to benthic diatoms in lake sediments, suggesting a shift from wetter to drier conditions.

The climate patterns and dynamics of the Empire

Researchers found a link between high lake levels—indicating warm and humid conditions—and the peak of the Tibetan Empire around AD 600–800.

This period was followed by severe droughts between AD 800 and 877, coinciding with the decline of the empire.

This environmental change likely led to crop failure and social unrest, and contributed to the demise of civilization.

Implications for the present

Due to its altitude, the Tibetan Plateau remains extremely sensitive to climatic changes.

Today, agriculture and pastoral activities make up a large part of Tibet’s income, so understanding the effects of climate is crucial for today’s population.

Examining the climatic conditions that led to the fall of the Tibetan Empire not only solves historical mysteries, but also provides insights that could help modern communities prepare for the impacts of climate change.

lessons for the future

The fall of the Tibetan Empire is a stark reminder of how closely connected civilizations are to their environment. As the modern world grapples with the challenges of climate change, the past can provide important lessons.

By understanding how variations in temperature and precipitation affected ancient civilizations, we can better prepare for the changes to come.

The story of the rise and fall of the Tibetan Empire illustrates the complex relationship between climate and civilization.

As new research digs deeper into the paleoenvironmental conditions of the time, we gain invaluable insights that are not only historically fascinating, but also urgently relevant.

The research results can be found in Reviews of Quaternary Science.

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Laura Coffey

Laura Coffey is a Worldtimetodays U.S. News Reporter based in Canada. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Laura Coffey joined Worldtimetodays in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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