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Jianxin Cui
,
Hong Chang
,
Kaiyue Cheng
, and
George S. Burr

Abstract

Historical records for the Mu Us Desert margin during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) and corresponding high-resolution climate proxy records have prompted studies on societal responses to climatic changes in this region. The Mu Us Desert margin is highly sensitive to changes in desertification and biological productivity controlled in part by Asian monsoon variations. Here the existing historical temperature and precipitation records are examined to understand spatiotemporal climate variations and to identify potential mechanisms that have driven desertification in the region over the past 500 years. The focus here is on three severe desertification events that occurred in 1529–46, the 1570s, and 1601–50. The relationships among temperature, precipitation, and desertification indicate that a cold/drought-prone climate drives the desertification process. During the Ming dynasty, this region was one of nine important military districts, where the frontier wall (the Great Wall) and other fortifications were constructed. To maintain the defense system, military officers made a valiant effort to decrease the influence of desertification. However, the human-waged war against nature was largely futile, and local rebellions in the stricken region were spawned by the inability of the government to cope with the severe environmental stresses associated with rapid desertification.

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