The mighty leader of the Mongol Empire, Genghis Khan, is celebrated for his extensive conquests that left a profound impression on the world’s inhabitants. Nonetheless, an unforeseen aspect of his heritage may reside in its possible impact on the Earth’s weather conditions. Current studies indicate that Genghis Khan and his marauding troops may have unknowingly contributed to the planet’s cooling.
In excavating Antarctic ice cores, researchers have detected significant decreases in atmospheric carbon dioxide coinciding with pivotal moments in history such as the Asiatic invasion by the Mongols, the European outbreak of the Black Death, the western triumph over the Americas, and the subduing of the Ming Dynasty in China. This link between these historical episodes is the significant diminution of human populations, leaving experts to ponder if these demographic collapses impacted the patterns of carbon dioxide levels.
To investigate this hypothesis, researchers analyzed land use patterns from 800 CE to the present day, focusing on the impact of these historical events on deforestation. Surprisingly, the Mongol invasion, initiated by Genghis Khan around 1200, emerged as the most influential in terms of climate impact. The Mongol armies, responsible for the deaths of approximately 30 percent of the 115 million people they encountered, inadvertently triggered the regrowth of vast expanses of forests—142,000 square kilometers (55,000 square miles) to be precise. This reforestation, a consequence of halted human activity, removed a staggering 684 million tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere, resulting in a global reduction of 0.183 parts per million.
While the Black Death, the conquest of the Americas, and the fall of the Ming Dynasty also contributed to reduced atmospheric carbon, their effects were comparatively modest. The researchers concluded that only the Mongol invasion had the potential to compensate for emissions from the rest of the world during that period.
In the end, the researchers propose that natural processes, such volcanic eruptions, were more likely to be responsible for the significant historical declines in atmospheric carbon recorded in ancient ice cores, despite the large carbon footprint linked to Genghis Khan’s efforts. The study emphasizes the interconnection of historical events and their possible ramifications for the Earth’s ecology, even though Genghis Khan’s influence on the climate may not be directly visible in ice cores.