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Dry spells spelled trouble in ancient China
Date:11/6/2008

>A lack of rainfall could have contributed to social upheaval and the fall of dynasties.

The researchers discovered that periods of weak summer monsoons coincided with the last years of the Tang, Yuan and Ming dynasties, which are known to have been times of popular unrest.

Conversely, the scientists found that a strong summer monsoon prevailed during one of China's "golden ages," the Northern Song Dynasty.

The ample summer monsoon rains may have contributed to the rapid expansion of rice cultivation from southern China to the midsection of the country. During the Northern Song Dynasty, rice first became China's main staple crop, and China's population doubled.

"The waxing and waning of summer monsoon rains are just one piece of the puzzle of changing climate and culture around the world," said Larry Edwards, geologist at the University of Minnesota and a co-author of the paper.

For example, the study showed that the dry period at the end of the Tang Dynasty coincided with a previously identified drought halfway around the world, in Meso-America, which has been linked to the fall of the Mayan civilization.

The study also showed that the ample summer rains of the Northern Song Dynasty coincided with the beginning of the well-known Medieval Warm Period in Europe and Greenland.

During this time--the late 10th century--Vikings colonized southern Greenland. Centuries later, a series of weak monsoons prevailed as Europe and Greenland shivered through what geologists call the Little Ice Age.

In the 14th and early 15th centuries, as the cold of the Little Ice Age settled into Greenland, the Vikings disappeared from there. At the same time, on the other side of the world, the weak monsoons of the 14th century coincided with the end of the Yuan Dynasty.

A second major finding concerns the relationship between temperature and the strength of the monsoons. For most of the last 1,810 years, as avera
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Contact: Cheryl Dybas
cdybas@nsf.gov
703-292-7734
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert

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