A novel and exciting study that will provide new insights into the key relationships between climate, water availability and human activities in the semi-arid regions of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is getting under way at the University of Reading. The research will help shape our perception of the past, present and future of one of the most complex – and often troubled – parts of the world.
With a major funding award of nearly £1,240,000 from the Leverhulme Trust, a unique team of Reading researchers, including meteorologists, hydrologists, geologists, archaeologists and geographers, will work together to assess changes in the hydrological climate in the MENA region and its impact on human communities.
It is in the great river valleys of this region – the Jordan, Euphrates, Nile and Indus – that the ancient civilisations arose, while the plight of this region under a changing climatic and hydrological regime is central to global ecology, economics and politics today.
The project will have two levels. First, a detailed study of the interplay between climate, water and human society from 20,000 BC to AD 2100 in the Jordan Valley. This will involve the development of a hydrological model, palaeoenvironmental studies of landscape and vegetation change, archaeological studies of human settlement, diet, health and water management, and an examination of current issues regarding water usage in the context of industrial, agricultural and tourist development.
Second, the development and evaluation of a climate model for the MENA region as a whole, together with a study of its implications for past, present and future human settlement.
Since the first farming communities appeared at around 10,000 BC, the Jordan Valley has been the scene of major social and economic developments, including Roman and Ottoman settlement. Social and economic change remains on-going today with an increasing intensification of agriculture, the settlement of formerly nomadic people, and the development of industry.
The one resource at the centre of all such past and present activity is water, its status changing from a natural resource to a cultural commodity and having now become a resource at the centre of political tension, in some circumstances provoking conflict, and in others international cooperation.
Archaeologist Professor Steven Mithen, who will direct the research team, said: "This exceptional collaboration of researchers from Reading will not only provide a significant contribution to the academic issues, but will also contribute to policy formation regarding economic development and planning in the region.
"In terms of water, climate and human activity, the MENA region is of tremendous importance. Yet, curiously, the nature of the water cycle and river flow in the area has not received the academic attention it requires. Nor has there been adequate study of how the issue of water has impacted on past settlement and how it might do so in the future in the context of global climate change and further economic development.
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