Climate Change Aided Genghis Khan’s Empire

Unusual climate conditions favored the advance of Mongolian military power in the time of Genghis Khan, scientists say.

AsianScientist (Mar. 24, 2014) – A study of tree-rings indicates that the unusual wet climate during Genghis Khan’s reign may have contributed to the success of his empire.

Though political realities would also have played into Genghis Khan’s power grab, a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) shows that the climate provided literal horsepower as armies and their horses fed off the fertile, rain-fed land.

The 13th century Mongol empire was the largest contiguous land empire in world history. Such a strong and unified center would have required a concentration of resources that only higher productivity could have sustained, the paper states.

“Through a careful analysis of tree-ring records spanning eleven centuries, the researchers have provided valuable information about a period of great significance,” says Tom Baerwald, a program director for the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) Program, which funded the research.

“The results also provide insights into the complex interactions of climate, vegetation and human activity in semi-arid regions today,” Baerwald says.

The scientists believe that human-caused warming may have exacerbated the current drought in central Mongolia, similar to the drought that coincided with Genghis Khan’s initial rise to power.

“If future warming overwhelms increased precipitation, episodic ‘heat droughts’ and their social, economic and political consequences will likely become more common in Mongolia and Inner Asia,” warn the authors of the paper.

The article can be found at: Pederson et al. (2014) Pluvials, droughts, the Mongol Empire, and modern Mongolia.


Source: National Science Foundation; Photo: Mazzali/Flickr/CC.

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