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UW Researchers: Did Climate Change Help Doom The Roman Empire?

December 8, 2008

Madison, WI - Climate change researchers at the University of Wisconsin have new technology that allows them to measure how much rain fell in a given period, even thousands of years ago.

Their research indicates the fall of the Roman and Byzantine empires more than 1400 years ago may have been driven by a change in climate. The findings are based on analysis of a cave near Jerusalem, which yielded evidence of an extremely dry period of time that coincides with these historic events.

According to Geology professor John Valley, the ultimate goal of the research project is a detailed look at climate patterns over the centuries.

"What we hope is to slowly build up a record that's continuous for the last 100,000 years. The information would show how the climates behaved in the past, and that is an indication of what's going to happen in the future. It's one piece of evidence."

Valley says the rainfall research could help today's climate predictions, as scientists have shown that the climate is changing at an accelerated pace now.

Graduate student Ian Orland contributed to the research, which will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal "Quaternary Research."

Glen Gardner/Deb Courson, Public News Service - WI