Global warming often evokes images of melting icecaps, disappearing landmasses, and natural disasters. But the results aren't always so dire. For the Incas, global warming meant 400 years' prosperity and growth, allowing them to create a formidable empire.
With no written record to describe the rise of the largest pre-Columbian empire, paleoecologists have investigated the climate that existed in the centuries proceeding the Incas' apex. Pollen and seeds found in the sediment in the Cuzco region of the Peruvian Andes reveal a period of climate warming that began around 1100 CE and continued past the Spanish conquest of the Incas in 1533 CE. Alex Chepstow-Lusty of the French Institute for Andean Studies in Lima, Peru, noted such climate change can have a positive effect on civilizations:
"Climate warming does not always have to be a negative issue. Our research shows that it can favor societal development."
In the case of the Incas, four centuries of warm weather melted the glaciers, pumping water into the formerly arid region. Trees were moved up mountains to combat soil erosion, allowing for agriculture in the newly cleared lands. The result was a lengthy period of plenty, with maize and potato crops feeding a growing population and allowing the Incas to turn their attention to assembling a military, building roads and buildings, and creating an infrastructure.
But climate experts warn that future climate change could have disastrous effects:
"Peru is considered the third most threatened country in the world by climate change, with most of its glaciers predicted to disappear by 2050. The country should be focusing on restoring and protecting its ecosystems," Chepstow-Lusty said.
Incan Empire Aided by Global Warming [Discovery News]