Water shortages can destroy cultures: Interplay between society and hydrological effects

The demise of the Maya civilization

Something really drastic must have happened to end the Classic Maya Period in the 9th Century. Within a short period of time, this advanced civilisation in Central America went from flourishing to collapsing — the population dwindling rapidly and monumental stone structures, like the ones built at Yucatán, were no longer being constructed. The reason for this demise remains the subject of debate even today.

Model calculations by TU Wien may have found the explanation: the irrigation technology that served the Mayans well during periods of drought may have actually made their society more vulnerable to major catastrophes.

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Socio-hydrology

“Water influences society and society influences water,” says Linda Kuil, one of Prof. Günter Blöschl’s PhD students of the Vienna Doctoral Programme on Water Resource Systems, funded by the Austrian Science Fund, at TU Wien. “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.”

Since water and society have such a direct influence on each other, it will not suffice to describe them by separate models. This is why researchers at TU Wien explore the interactions between sociology and hydrology and represent them by coupled mathematical models. The emerging field of socio-hydrology establishes mathematical interrelationships, e.g., between food availability and birth rate, or between recent water shortages that are still fresh in our memories and society’s plans for building water reservoirs. These kinds of interrelationships, combined with a large amount of historical and current data, ultimately yield a complex system that produces different scenarios of human-nature interactions.

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The demise of the Maya civilization: Water shortage can destroy cultures: Interplay between society and hydrological effects
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The demise of the Maya civilization: Water shortage can destroy cultures: Interplay between society and hydrological effects
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Water reservoirs provide relief during short periods of drought. They can, however, make a society even more vulnerable to major catastrophes, if the population keeps growing without changing their habits. New models suggest that this could have caused the demise of the Maya civilization.
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ScienceDaily
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