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Friday, January 28, 2011

Ulf Büntgen et al., Science (13 January 2011), 2500 Years of European Climate Variability and Human Susceptibility

Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1197175

2500 Years of European Climate Variability and Human Susceptibility

  1. Ulf Büntgen1,2,*
  2. Willy Tegel3
  3. Kurt Nicolussi4
  4. Michael McCormick5
  5. David Frank1,2
  6. Valerie Trouet1,6,
  7. Jed O. Kaplan7
  8. Franz Herzig8
  9. Karl-Uwe Heussner9
  10. Heinz Wanner2
  11. Jürg Luterbacher10 and 
  12. Jan Esper11
+Author Affiliations
  1. 1Swiss Federal Research Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), 8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland.
  2. 2Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, 3012 Bern, Switzerland.
  3. 3Institute for Forest Growth, University of Freiburg, 79085 Freiburg, Germany.
  4. 4Institute of Geography, University of Innsbruck, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria.
  5. 5Department of History, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.
  6. 6Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA.
  7. 7Environmental Engineering Institute, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland.
  8. 8Bavarian State Department for Cultural Heritage, 86672 Thierhaupten, Germany.
  9. 9German Archaeological Institute, 14195 Berlin, Germany.
  10. 10Department of Geography, Justus Liebig University, 35390 Giessen, Germany.
  11. 11Department of Geography, Johannes Gutenberg University, 55128 Mainz, Germany.
  1. *To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail:


Climate variations have influenced the agricultural productivity, health risk, and conflict level of preindustrial societies. Discrimination between environmental and anthropogenic impacts on past civilizations, however, remains difficult because of the paucity of high-resolution palaeoclimatic evidence. Here, we present tree ring–based reconstructions of Central European summer precipitation and temperature variability over the past 2500 years. Recent warming is unprecedented, but modern hydroclimatic variations may have at times been exceeded in magnitude and duration. Wet and warm summers occurred during periods of Roman and medieval prosperity. Increased climate variability from ~AD 250 to 600 coincided with the demise of the Western Roman Empire and the turmoil of the Migration Period. Historical circumstances may challenge recent political and fiscal reluctance to mitigate projected climate change.

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