Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Genghis Khan And Interdisciplinary Research

State of the Planet has quite a readable account of how a period of warm climate in the early 1200's may have produced an abundance of grass and livestock in Mongolia, fueling the expansionist ambitions of Genghis Khan.

Here is an interesting passage from the article:

In 2013, Avery Shinneman, a biologist at the University of Washington, will analyze sediments at selected lakes in order to estimate abundances of livestock over time, using varying levels of fungal spores that live in the dung of grazing animals, and algae fertilized by that dung. The data will be fed into a model developed by Hanqin Tian, an ecologist at Auburn University in Alabama, who studies the weather of modern Mongolia and its relation to grassland productivity. The Mongols left few written records, but Nicola di Cosmo, a historian at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., will look into contemporary accounts from China, Persia and Europe for clues to climate and military events. From all this, the researchers hope to develop a picture of how sun, water, soil and animals might have created an energy system that the Mongols could have tapped into.

Biologists, theoretical ecologists, historians... increasingly big projects like this one become interdisciplinary by necessity.

If you have been following my posts on the controversy over a paper by Giosan et al on the geomorphology of rivers feeding the Harappan civilization..now that was a big project involving geomorphologists, climate experts, paleobotanists, sedimentologists and geochemists. The paper had 15 authors. You could have confused the author citations for the abstract! :)

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