A Chinese cave links climate change, social impacts, and human adaptation over the last 500 years

Liangcheng Tan, Yanjun Cai, Zhisheng An, Hai Cheng, Chuan Chou Shen, Sebastian F M Breitenbach, Yongli Gao, R. Lawrence Edwards, Haiwei Zhang, Yajuan Du

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52 Scopus citations


The collapse of some pre-historical and historical cultures, including Chinese dynasties were presumably linked to widespread droughts, on the basis of synchronicities of societal crises and proxy-based climate events. Here, we present a comparison of ancient inscriptions in Dayu Cave from Qinling Mountains, central China, which described accurate times and detailed impacts of seven drought events during the period of 1520-1920 CE, with high-resolution speleothem records from the same cave. The comparable results provide unique and robust tests on relationships among speleothem δ18 O changes, drought events, and societal unrest. With direct historical evidences, our results suggest that droughts and even modest events interrupting otherwise wet intervals can cause serioussocial crises. Modeling results of speleothem δ18O series suggest that future precipitation in central China may be below the average of the past 500 years. As Qinling Mountain is the main recharge area of two large water transfer projects and habitats of many endangered species, it is imperative to explore an adaptive strategy for the decline in precipitation and/or drought events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number12284
JournalScientific reports
StatePublished - Aug 13 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We gratefully acknowledge the NBRPC (2013CB955902), NSFC (41372192; 41290254; 41230524; 41023006), and the WLF-CAS for funding this research. This study was also partially supported by Taiwan MOST (103-2119-M-002-022) and NTU (101R7625) grants. H.C. and R.L.E. received financial support from the U.S. NSF (EAR-0908792 and EAR-1211299), and S.F.M.B. received support from the Swiss NSF (CRSI22_132646/1).


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