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

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.”

Explore further

Study shows climate may heavily influence plague development

Citation: Researchers investigating whether historic epidemic holds the key to climate change plague risk (2012, July 10) retrieved 20 September 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

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.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more