Coffee Hour: Energy and Empire ...

Friday, September 27, 2013 - 3:30pm to 5:00pm
Refreshments are offered in 319 Walker Building at 3:30 p.m. The talk begins in 112 Walker Building at 4:00 p.m.

Energy and Empire: What Can the Mongols Teach Us About Climate Change and Society?

Climate variability has large impacts on society, particularly societies that are directly tied to local net primary productivity through agriculture or pastoralism.  Understanding the connections between climate, energy, and society during historical and modern climatic transitions requires annual resolution records with high fidelity climate signals. Semi-arid regions like Mongolia are especially sensitive to small changes in the climate state and are also projected to experience the early consequences of anthropogenic climate change.


I will present a 2500 year, annually resolved record of water availability from tree growth in central Mongolia that places historic and modern social change in the context of millennia of climatic variability.  Our record covers both the climate during the conquests of Chinggis Khaan’s (Ghengis Khan) 13th century Mongol Empire as well as a 21st century drought associated with the mass migration of more than 200,000 people to the capital city of Ulaanbaatar.  Placing these events in climatic context allows us to understand how societies can exploit environmental alliances or suffer from environmental dissonance. 

About the speaker

hessl amyAmy Hessl (Ph.D. University of Arizona, M.S. University of Wyoming, B.S. & B.A. University of California, Berkeley), associate chair and professor, Department of Geology and Geography, West Virginia University. Hessl studies the interaction between ecosystems, climate variability, and human activities in forests.  She has investigated the influence of climate and land use history on fire regimes in the Pacific Northwest and Mongolia and has developed millennial length hydroclimate reconstructions for the eastern United States and Mongolia that place current climate changes in the context of the past.  Her work has been covered in Science, Scientific American, the Smithsonian and MSNBC.