April 16, 2008 NASA Scientist To Discuss "Avoiding the Fate of the Mayans" May 6

Discoveries from Space: Human Interaction with the Landscape, Climate Change and Cultural Collapse

Press Contact: Donna Urschel (202) 707-1639
Public Contact: Science, Technology and Business Division (202) 707-5664

The Maya civilization, at its peak, was one of the most densely populated and culturally dynamic societies in the world. But after flourishing for a thousand years, it abruptly disappeared. Thanks to Landsat satellite data and climate models, NASA archaeologist Tom Sever has gained insights into the event known as the Maya Collapse. His findings can inform our lives today. Sever will present a lecture at the Library of Congress titled "Avoiding the Fate of the Mayans" at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, May 6, in the Mary Pickford Theater on the third floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. The presentation, the second in a series of five programs in 2008, is presented through a partnership between the Library's Science, Technology and Business Division and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. The event is free and open to the public; tickets are not required. The Maya civilization flourished in Mesoamerica , in the Petén Region of northern Guatemala. The civilization's demise, in the 8th and 9th centuries, is considered to be one of the worst demographic disasters in human history. Using satellite and airborne imagery, Sever has found evidence that widespread deforestation contributed to the extinction of the 1,000-year-old Maya civilization. Sever's story sheds light on the dynamics of human adaptation and effects upon tropical forest landscapes, and the role of natural and human-induced past and present changes to climate variability. Sever has studied the reasons the Maya were so successful in the first place. He believes that effective water management was the key. Excavations and satellite images reveal networks of canals that Sever suspects the Maya used to redirect and reuse rainwater. The subsequent increase in farming inevitably led to overpopulation and deforestation and, ultimately, to the end. Sever, who is a NASA senior research scientist in remote sensing/interdisciplinary research, has been conducting research in northern Guatemala since 1987. His satellite images and research influenced the president and congress of Guatemala in establishing the Maya Biosphere Reserve in 1990, the largest protected park in Mesoamerica. Sever holds a doctorate in anthropology/archeology from the University of Colorado in Boulder. He has more than 25 years of experience in environmental archeological research. He has worked with airborne and satellite systems conducting international research in Israel , Peru , Chile , Mexico , Costa Rica , Guatemala and the United States. The Library of Congress maintains one of the largest and most diverse collections of scientific and technical information in the world. The Science, Technology and Business Division provides reference and bibliographic services and develops the general collections of the Library in all areas of science, technology, business and economics. For more information, visit www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/.


PR 08-076
ISSN 0731-3527