Environment Demise of ancient Angkor holds warning for today’s cities

Demise of ancient Angkor holds warning for today’s cities

It was once the largest city in the world, covering 1000 square kilometres.

But the collapse of Angkor Wat, located in modern Cambodia, in the 15th century has long puzzled experts.

Thanks to research from the University of Sydney we’re a little closer to discovering what led to the city’s demise.

And it comes with a warning for modern urban communities – particularly as they become larger, more complex and home to more people.

Modern Sydney is 12,000 kilometres squared, while Brisbane is a sprawling 15,000km squared for example.

Using an in-depth mapping system, the researchers found a combination of overloaded infrastructure and external pressures caused by extreme changes in climate led to catastrophic failure at Angkor Wat.

This was most acutely felt in the city’s water system, which was not only aging, but could not deal with a sudden change from prolonged drought to an increase in rain.

Study lead, Professor Mikhail Prokopenko, said his team’s findings are crucial to improving cities’ infrastructure in an era of increasingly extreme weather events and new risks to urban environments.

“Complex infrastructural networks provide critical services to cities but can be vulnerable to external stressors, including climatic variability,” Prokopenko says.

“The cascading failure of critical infrastructure in Angkor which resulted from climate extremes re-emphasises the importance of building resilience into modern networks.

“Not only is it possible that catastrophic, infrastructural failure may also have occurred in the past, but the results from this research are critical to our community’s understanding of how climate and distributed resources affect the functioning of our cities and societies.

“If we don’t build resilience into our critical infrastructure, we may face severe and lasting disruptions to our civil systems, that can be intensified by external shocks and threaten our environment and economy.”

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