Hurricanes in the Caribbean became more frequent, and their severity changed markedly around the same time that classical Mayan culture in Central America was in its final decline. Scientists have made these and other conclusions after studying the climate archive, created under the guidance of geologists from the Goethe University. The research is presented in an article in Scientific Reports.

Tropical cyclones in the Atlantic – hurricanes – pose a serious threat to the lives and property of local people in the Caribbean and neighboring regions in the southeastern United States. The increasing force of storms, described in the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC Report), increases the likelihood of environmental and social disasters. The reason is that it is these cyclones that have caused devastating damage over the past 20 years.

The problem is that the climate models that are currently in use and could help better assess the hazard, however, are based on data that do not have spatial and temporal depth.

As part of a research project (Gi 222/31), a group of scientists was able to compile and analyze a sedimentary “storm archive” covering almost the entire Era (2000 years) with an annual resolution. The archive contains fine-grained annual sediment layers from the depths of the 125-meter Blue Hole, a submerged sinkhole in Lighthouse Reef Atoll off the coast of Belize, Central America. The nearly 9-meter long drill string from the bottom of the Blue Hole, which was recently dugout, has spanned the past 1885 years and has a total of 157 layers of sediment following various storms.

Through extensive research, it has become apparent that both short-term and long-term climate events have influenced storm activity over the past 2000 years and are reflected in the new climate archive.

The onset of the Medieval Warm Period (c. 900-1100 CE) represents an important transitional period when tropical cyclone activity changed significantly.

Since 100-900 A.D. storm activity in the region tended to be more stable and weaker, while from 900 to the present it has been more volatile and more vigorous.

Interestingly, this change in increased cyclone frequency goes hand-in-hand with the emergence of several very thick, coarse-grained storm layers and coincides with the ultimate decline of the classical Maya culture in Central America. It is possible that the increased impact of hurricanes on the Central American mainland, combined with extensive flooding of Mayan lowland croplands and rain-induced erosion in the wetlands of the Belize mountains (with the exception of already known periods of drought) influenced the death of the Mayan civilization.