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Mayan Civilization Crumbled, Was Water the Cause?

Aug 24, 2016 03:56 AM EDT
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Mayan Civilization was scientifically and culturally advanced for its time -- except when it came to planning for water shortages.

Researchers at Vienna University of Technology (TU Wien) led by Prof. Günter Blöschl recently published a paper in Water Resources Research based on model calculations that show lack of drought preparation may have caused the Mayan's large drop in population. Learning from history helps scientists and policy makers avoid similar mistakes in the future.

"Water influences society and society influences water," PhD student of the Vienna Doctoral Programme on Water Resource Systems at TU Wien Linda Kuil said in a statement.

"The water supply determines how much food is available, so in turn affects the growth of the population. Conversely, population increases may interfere with the natural water cycle through the construction of reservoirs, for example."

The team at TU Wein is focused on a new field called socio-hydrology. This interdisciplinary field studies interactions of water and people by establishing mathematical interrelationships.

Mayans had planned for water shortages by building reservoirs, which are an effective method for short term droughts. Counterintuitively, simulations showed that reservoirs could be associated with a more severe impact and larger corresponding population drop.

When reservoirs are available, the population continues to grow during a moderate drought. The increased population, combined with used up reservoirs, are placed in a worse position to survive an extended or more severe period of drought.

Education about climate change is necessary to shape systems and human behavior. Water shortages have already been linked to a host of societal problems spread across the globe.

The fall of the Mayan Civilization was likely a complex event, including other social and natural factors. However, modeling future global conditions, and preparing accordingly, can keep modern civilization from undergoing the same fate the Mayans experienced.

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