Researchers investigating whether historic epidemic holds the key to climate change plague risk

July 10, 2012, University of Plymouth

Scientists are taking a trip back to the Byzantine Empire to examine whether future climate change could increase the chances of a pandemic such as the bubonic plague.

A team of researchers will examine mud samples from Lake Nar in central Turkey, which was the of the Plague of Justinian that wiped out up to a quarter of the population of the Eastern Mediterranean region between AD541 and AD750.

The project, led by Plymouth University and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), will look for evidence of taking place at the time of the , and which has been subsequently preserved in the sediment.

Project leader Professor Neil Roberts, of the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, said the core samples taken from the lake could offer a window into the past and generate a huge amount of insight into how the plague affected the .

He said: “The muds at the bottom of Nar are annually-banded, similar to tree rings, and this enables us to reconstruct year-by-year variations in climate.

core samples from Nar show that the onset of the plague coincided with a very large switch from a drier to a wetter climate. The wetter climate would have increased the numbers of rats and other flea-carrying rodents, which in turn carry the plague bacterium.”

The team at Plymouth will work with colleagues at Nottingham and Birmingham Universities, as well as the NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory at the British Geological Survey, over the next 20 months. Together they’ll conduct chemical analysis on the to reconstruct how fast the climate changed and whether there was any lag between this and the spread of the disease.
The cores will also tell them, indirectly, about the consequences of the plague for rural agriculture, via the different types of pollen that are preserved. For example, did the reduction in human population lead to a fall in the proportion of pollen from crop plants, such as cereals and fruit trees? Finally, they will compare their results with information from historical texts which record the date and place of plague outbreaks, to see how well they match up.

Professor Roberts said that the story of the Justinian Plague would help to model potential scenarios in the future. He said: “Many diseases like the bubonic plague, but also flu and malaria, are limited by environmental factors, including climate. If these natural controls alter in the future, then pandemics can become more likely.

“A warmer and wetter climate could lead to disease-carrying creatures which thrive in warm, moist environments spreading to new regions.”

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1 / 5 (1) Jul 10, 2012
26 years of extensive climate change research has produced literally millions of scientific studies on Human CO2s deadly effects and since the millions of studies cant possibly all be saying the same thing, consensus of climate change being deadly is impossible. We need to doubt and challenge all authority especially one that condemns our children to a CO2 death. REAL planet lovers dont want climate change to be deadly and the vast body of evidence suggests that climate change consensus was exaggerated along with climate change being deadly amounting to the science being just a consultants wet dream and a planet lovers nightmare.
Meanwhile, the entire world of SCIENCE, journalism and progressivism had allowed bank-funded and corporate-run CARBON TRADING STOCK MARKETS to trump 3rd world fresh water relief, starvation rescue and 3rd world education for just over 26 years of insane attempts at climate CONTROL. Nice job lab coats.
5 / 5 (1) Jul 10, 2012
You always blame science. If there is a water shortage, it isn't the fault of science, it is the fault of government since, in the event of a water shortage, it is the ruling body's job to act in the best interest of the people to solve the problem....they don't. Climate change simply amplifies existing stresses, GHG regulation policies are a means of trying to solve these problems before they happen. I'm not saying that profit mongers aren't taking advantage of the situation, they always have and always will, regardless of the situation. Scientists aren't profit mongers, if they want to be rich, they don't remain scientists. There are way too many dollars spent by the rich and middle class on non essentials for you to be targeting scientists as the culprits behind the problems you named. As an example to put it in perspective: Americans spend 160 billion dollars a year on gambling, over 5 trillion on entertainment...thats alot of books food and water dude.

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