Ancient Angkor’s climate demise a warning, says study

New research released by the University of Sydney has revealed how climate stressors led to the demise of the city of Angkor, the capital of the powerful Khmer Empire in South East Asia.

The city’s fall has long puzzled historians, archaeologists and scientists, but new research released by the University of Sydney has found that changes to the region’s climate led to the compromising of the massive city’s water catchments, leading to the abandonment of the city in the mid-15th century.

Lead researcher Professor Mikhail Prokopenko believes that the study is crucial to improving infrastructure in an era of increasing frequent extreme weather events which are creating new and pressing risks to urban environments.

“Complex infrastructural networks provide critical services to cities but can be vulnerable to external stressors, including climatic variability,” Professor Prokopenko said.

“The cascading failure of critical infrastructure in Angkor which resulted from climate extremes re-emphasises the importance of building resilience into modern networks.”

Having worked on the Greater Angkor Project for 18 years, Professor Daniel Penny said, “For the first time, identifying a systemic vulnerability in Angkor’s infrastructural network has provided a mechanistic explanation for its demise, which comes with an important lesson for our contemporary urban environments.”

Both of the researchers believe that the risks of network collapse have become more acute as urban conglomerations become larger, more complex, and have more people living in them.

“If we don’t build resilience into our critical infrastructure, we may face severe and lasting disruptions to our civil systems, that can be intensified by external shocks and threaten our environment and economy”, Professor Prokopenko concluded.

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