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Press Release 10-048

Climate Helped Bring Angkor to Its Knees

Tree ring record reveals abrupt end to empire

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Illustration showing wet times,  when Angkor thrived, and dry times that coincided with its demise.

Studying tree rings has revealed a record of wet and dry times that helps make sense of the mysterious and gradual demise of Angkor, the capitol of the Khmer Empire in Cambodia from the 9th to 14th centuries. A very wet period with rich monsoons and plentiful crops from 1258 to 1300 was followed by many years of drought from 1350 to 1370.

Credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation


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Photo of a millennial aged Fokienia tree in Vietnam.

A millennial aged Fokienia tree growing in the dense forests of Vietnam's Bidoup Nui Ba National Park. Fokienia is one of several rare conifers growing in Southeast Asia that can attain such age, all of which produce annual rings. The vine-like structures shown here are actually aerial roots that are only rarely found on conifers.

Credit: Brendan M. Buckley, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University


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Photo of researchers taking a tree core from Fokienia tree in Vietnam.

Sampling old-growth Fokienia in Bidoup Nui Ba National Park (BDNP) in February 2009. From left to right, Buckley, co-author Kevin Anchukaitis, BDNP ranger Mr. Tri, Christian Science Monitor journalist Andy Nelson, and co-author Le Canh Nam of BDNP.

Credit: Kevin Krajick, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, The Earth Institute, Columbia University.


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Photo of a Fokienia tree seedling.

A Fokienia seedling growing at its southernmost limits in the dense forest of Bidoup Nui Ba National Park, Vietnam. Fokienia, known locally as Po Mu, can attain ages exceeding 1,000 years and have a natural range from southern Vietnam to southern China, and westward into the mountains of Laos.

Credit: Brendan M. Buckley, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University


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