Posted by: Johan Normark | May 22, 2011

Volcanoes and the Maya

It should not come as a surprise but the present volcanic eruption on Iceland has sparked new activity on the 2012 forums. So, is there any connection between volcanic activity and the ancient Maya? Not regarding any made up prophecies regarding the end of the world. However, volcanoes are located near the Maya lowlands and they have recently been singled out as fertilizers for lowland sites. Far more common is the “harbinger of doom” interpretation.

Volcanoes have been blamed for several changes in the Mesoamerican history as they affect the weather, even far away from the eruption. Eruptions affect the climate system by making the atmosphere less transparent to solar radiation. The amount of solar radiation reaching the troposphere is reduced and circulations that distribute pressure, temperature, precipitation, cloudiness are affected by solar forcing.

Volcanoes located within the Tropics have most effect on the weather in the Maya lowlands although some extratropical volcanoes also correlate with Mesoamerican droughts according to Richardson Gill. The metereological conditions during the eruption are of importance, such as if they occurred during warm or cold periods or the time of the year. An eruption during the dry season would have little effect. The eruptions may also have affected different areas of Mesoamerica. Only half of the famines in Yucatan coincide with droughts in central Mexico.

The current eruption will not lead to famines in Mexico but it can perhaps lead to the cancellation of flights to Cancun from Europe. This potential decline in the inflow of European charter tourists will probably not lead to the collapse of the massive resorts along the Riviera Maya (unfortunately, since I really think that Cancun is awful). Personally, I am a little bit worried for my own vacation plans (again), although these plans take me in another cardinal direction.


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