Climate as a contributing factor in the demise of Angkor, Cambodia

Buckley, Brendan M.; Anchukaitis, Kevin; Penny, Daniel; Fletcher, Roland; Cook, Edward R.; Sano, Masaki; Nam, Le Canh; Wichienkeeo, Aroonrut; Minh, Ton That; Hong, Truong Mai

The “hydraulic city” of Angkor, the capitol of the Khmer Empire in Cambodia, experienced decades-long drought interspersed with intense monsoons in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that, in combination with other factors, contributed to its eventual demise. The climatic evidence comes from a seven-and-a-half century robust hydroclimate reconstruction from tropical southern Vietnamese tree rings. 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. Hydroclimate variability for this region is strongly and inversely correlated with tropical Pacific sea surface temperature, indicating that a warm Pacific and El Niño events induce drought at interannual and interdecadal time scales, and that low-frequency variations of tropical Pacific climate can exert significant influence over Southeast Asian climate and society.


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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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