Climate and Dynamics
Collapse of the Maya: Could deforestation have contributed?
Article first published online: 17 JUN 2010
Copyright 2010 by the American Geophysical Union.
Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres (1984–2012)
Volume 115, Issue D12, 27 June 2010
How to Cite
2010), Collapse of the Maya: Could deforestation have contributed? J. Geophys. Res., 115, D12106, doi:10.1029/2009JD011942., , , , and (
- Issue published online: 17 JUN 2010
- Article first published online: 17 JUN 2010
- Manuscript Accepted: 22 FEB 2010
- Manuscript Revised: 25 OCT 2009
- Manuscript Received: 25 FEB 2009
 The collapse of the Maya civilization during the ninth century A.D. is a major conundrum in the history of mankind. This civilization reached a spectacular peak but then almost completely collapsed in the space of a few decades. While numerous explanations have been put forth to explain this collapse, in recent years, drought has gained favor. This is because water resources were a key for the Maya, especially to ensure their survival during the lengthy dry season that occurs where they lived. Natural drought is a known, recurring feature of this region, as evidenced by observational data, reconstructions of past times, and global climate model output. Results from simulations with a regional climate model demonstrate that deforestation by the Maya also likely induced warmer, drier, drought-like conditions. It is therefore hypothesized that the drought conditions devastating the Maya resulted from a combination of natural variability and human activities. Neither the natural drought or the human-induced effects alone were sufficient to cause the collapse, but the combination created a situation the Maya could not recover from. These results may have sobering implications for the present and future state of climate and water resources in Mesoamerica as ongoing massive deforestation is again occurring.