Vietnam: Ancient Fujian Cypress tells of drought that once ended Indochina’s civilizations

Research by scientists from the United States and Japan has revealed a
record of drought in Indochina that goes back more than 700 years by
studying tree ring core samples from Fokienia hodginsii, a rare
species that lives in Vietnam’s cloud forests. What the samples show
are two lengthy droughts between the late 1300s early 1400s, around
the time the vast and wealthy Angkor civilization in modern-day
Cambodia collapsed.

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“There was a very significant multi-decadal drought in the early 1400s
with the worst drought year being 1417,” said Brendan Buckley of the
Tree Ring Laboratory at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in the
United States. Along the mountainous spine of Vietnam grow ancient
conifers whose tree rings tell of droughts lasting more than a
generation that helped push civilizations toward collapse, a climate
change conference heard on Tuesday.

“All of the kingdoms in Southeast Asia collapsed, in Thailand, Vietnam and Laos between 1750-80,” he said. Buckley teamed up with Masaki Sano and Tatsuo Sweda of Ehime University of Japan to study the tree rings of Fokienia. The research is helping unravel the complexity of the annual monsoon that usually begins during March-May and on which millions rely to grow crops, particularly rice in the Mekong Delta.

It could also help understand how climate change could affect the densely populated region and its economies. Buckley said the chronology constructed from the tree rings showed a strong correlation between dry spells and the El Nino weather pattern that typically brings drought to Southeast Asia and eastern Australia.

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