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Mediterranean may be driest for 900 years

The drought that has blighted the eastern Mediterranean since 1998 could be the worst in nine centuries, according to new research led by scientists from the US space agency Nasa.

They report in the Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheresthat they used a tree-ring chronicle – trees accurately reflect the rainfall conditions of each year in their annual growth – to establish what had happened.

They found that although the island of Cyprus and the bordering nations of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Turkey have always tended to be dry, the latest drought is at least 50% drier than anything experienced in the region in the last 500 years, and up to 20% drier than anything 900 years ago.

In effect, they have traced climate history back to a very different world, long before the European discovery of America; a world in which Christian crusaders fought the Saracen forces for control of Jerusalem; in which the armies of Byzantium held the eastern Roman Empire against assault from the Turks; in which the temples of Angkor Wat were first built; in which work on the great cathedrals of Europe began; in which Venice began to emerge as a great maritime power; in which the first European universities began to take shape.

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