Climatic Change

, Volume 69, Issue 2, pp 393-407

First online:

A Simulation of the Climatic Conditions Associated with the Collapse of the Maya Civilization

  • B. G. HuntAffiliated withCSIRO Atmospheric Research, PMB1 Email author 
  • , T. I. ElliottAffiliated withCSIRO Atmospheric Research, PMB1

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It has been speculated that the collapse of the Maya civilization in the Yucatan region of Mexico around 900 AD was caused by drought. A 10,000-year simulation with the CSIRO Mark 2 coupled global climatic model has been used to investigate such a possibility. The model replicates sporadic, severe drought over the Yucatan consistent with the above speculation. It was found that these droughts were specifically constrained to the Central American area, with no obvious linkages to other regions. An investigation of the mechanisms associated with rainfall fluctuations over the Yucatan indicates that these were not caused by sea surface temperature variations. Fluctuations in the intensity of the topographically constrained meridional wind systems located on both the western and eastern coasts of the Americas were found to be the dominant influence. The sensitivity of the Yucatan to drought episodes arises from its location at the convergence zone of these wind systems. It is concluded that the severe drought episodes in this region are a consequence of stochastic fluctuations of these wind systems and that external influences are not necessary.