The Loh Down On Science

Climate of Conquest

Nelson Entertainment / Orion Pictures, 1989

Were Genghis Khan's conquests a product of . . . nice weather?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

The Mongols were bad dudes, but they kind of came out of nowhere.  One day they were a bunch of warring tribes, the next they conquered Korea, Turkey, Russia, and more.  What changed?

Neil Pederson and other U.S. and Mongolian scientists studied tree rings in central Mongolian pines.  They found that the climate in early 13th century Mongolia was the wettest it had been in 1,100 years. 

So?  Well, Mongols rode horses, which eat grass, the gasoline of its day.  Wet, warm conditions were excellent for grazing livestock.  The strong economy, and well-fed horses, may have helped Genghis Khan consolidate power and conquer most of the known world.

But climate cuts both ways:  21st century Mongolia is facing extreme drought.  It's killing livestock, damaging the economy, and spurring mass migrations.

Leaving an opening for . . . Californian World Domination!  No, no, no, dude.  The closest we’ll get to Genghis Khan is in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  Totally awesome!  Pass the popcorn.

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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