Effects of land use and anthropogenic aerosol emissions in the Roman Empire

Gilgen, Anina; Wilkenskjeld, Stiig; Kaplan, Jed O.; Kühn, Thomas; Lohmann, Ulrike

As one of the first transcontinental polities that led to widespread anthropogenic modification of the environment, the influence of the Roman Empire on European climate has been studied for more than 20 years. Recent advances in our understanding of past land use and aerosol–climate interactions make it valuable to revisit the way humans may have affected the climate of the Roman era. Here we estimate the effect of humans on some climate variables in the Roman Empire at its apogee, focusing on the impact of anthropogenic land cover and aerosol emissions. For this we combined existing land use scenarios with novel estimates (low, medium, high) of aerosol emissions from fuel combustion and burning of agricultural land. Aerosol emissions from agricultural burning were greater than those from fuel consumption but of the same order of magnitude.

Using the global aerosol-enabled climate model ECHAM-HAM-SALSA, we conducted simulations with fixed sea-surface temperatures to gain a first impression about the possible climate impact of anthropogenic land cover and aerosols in the Roman Empire. While land use effects induced a regional warming for one of the reconstructions caused by decreases in turbulent flux, aerosol emissions enhanced the cooling effect of clouds and thus led to a cooling in the Roman Empire. Quantifying the anthropogenic influence on climate is, however, challenging since our model likely overestimates aerosol-effective radiative forcing and prescribes the sea-surface temperatures.

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Gilgen, Anina / Wilkenskjeld, Stiig / Kaplan, Jed O. / et al: Effects of land use and anthropogenic aerosol emissions in the Roman Empire. 2019. Copernicus Publications.

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Rechteinhaber: Anina Gilgen et al.

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