Before civil war engulfed Syria, the Middle Eastern nation suffered through a punishing drought.
That drought—Syria's worst in recorded history—helped create a powder keg of civil and political unrest that erupted into violent conflict during the spring of 2011. And according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, climate change was likely a catalyst of the bone-dry conditions that played a role in the advent of the Syrian civil war.
"The severity of the drought, which was made more likely by climate change, added to other stressors, led to the unraveling of Syrian society," Richard Seager, an author of the study and a climate scientist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory said in an interview.
As many as 1.5 million Syrians moved from the countryside to already-overcrowded cities after the drought that began in 2006 led to massive crop failures. Bashar al-Assad's government did little to aid the internally displaced people, a policy of inaction that fueled growing resentment toward the regime and set the stage for the Syrian uprising.
Journalists and political analysts alike have speculated that drought catalyzed conflict in Syria. But the research published Monday is the first major scientific study to link the parched conditions to climate change.