“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
So warned Spanish-born American philosopher, poet and humanist George Santayana. His cautions seem apropos in light of a recent report from Live Science, that indicates that it was drought—rather than war or land overexploitation—that led to the demise of the ancient city of Angkor.
Established in Cambodia during the 9th century, the city of Angkor—the capital of the Khmer Empire—was one of the most powerful urban centers in Southeast Asia for almost 500 years. As you can imagine, with an urban population spread out over 585 square miles, the city thrived by developing a sophisticated water resource management plan. As such, Angkor was crisscrossed with an extensive system of moats, reservoirs, channels, and embankments designed to collect and store monsoonal deluges for use throughout the year. A study of tree rings in Vietnam reveals that the region went through extended periods of drought, punctuated by short-but-intense moments of heavy rainfall. It appears the city’s water resource management system was designed to capitalize on the vagaries of the region’s climate, but unfortunately extreme changes to the area’s weather patterns ultimately lead to the city’s downfall.
The fall of the empire in the late 14th to early 15th centuries has been blamed on a number of causes, but recent evidence now points to drought as the major contributor to the empire’s ruin. After studying the region’s reservoirs—also known as barays—researchers found that sediment levels dropped to one-tenth of historical levels, indicating “that water levels fell dramatically as well.” The sediment data—combined with other factors that illustrate how the ecology of the region changed pre and post collapse—has led researchers to posit that Angkor’s water management system may have been the “insufficient to cope with sudden and intense variations in climate” that emerged during the latter part of the 14th century.
In a statement regarding the findings, researcher Mary Beth Day, a paleolimnologist from the University of Cambridge, England, said, “Angkor can be an example of how technology isn’t always sufficient to prevent major collapse during times of severe instability. Angkor had a highly sophisticated water management infrastructure, but this technologic advantage was not enough to prevent its collapse in the face of extreme environmental conditions.”
So what do you think? Are cities in the developed world prepared to handle the vagaries of recent extreme environmental conditions—particularly in terms of water resource management? Can an awareness of changing climate conditions give us an advantage that ancient Angkor lacked? And are we doing enough to stave off complete collapse during “times of severe instability”?
Upcoming Forester University Webinars
January 12th, 2012
Planning & Executing an Effective Pavement Preservation Program
As roadway networks and commercial vehicle loading continue to increase and Municipality taxation power remains limited, the need to effectively maintain and improve our pavement infrastructure is paramount. Join David Hein, V.P. of Transportation for ARA, to explore the key concepts of an effective pavement preservation program, program implementation needs and guidelines, and common roadblocks to successful implementation. Read more…
January 26th, 2012
5 Steps to Creating a Successful Public Outreach Campaign
Change starts with people. Whether your focus is stormwater pollution, energy conservation, pavement restoration, or recycling, a successful public outreach campaign resonates with your target audience and leads to long-lasting behavior change. Join Erica Hooper of SGA to explore a proven 5-step approach to crafting a successful outreach campaign based on real-world examples of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Read more…
February 2nd, 2012
Advanced Stormwater Treatment: Dissolved Pollutants
How effective are your stormwater treatments in capturing dissolved loads? With an average of 45% of the phosphorus load and up to 50% of the metal load transported through treatment practices to receiving waters in dissolved form, advanced treatment is imperative. Join Andrew Erickson to explore cost-effective, field-tested methods to capture stormwater dissolved pollutants and optimize stormwater treatment performance. We’ll explore several field applications and data demonstrating significant improvements in dissolved pollutant fraction capture.Read more...