Academician Congbin Fu and his group reveal change of extreme snow events shaped the roof of traditional Chinese architecture in the past millennium


A recent interdisciplinary study conducted by Congbin Fu, an academician of Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) and his group demonstrate the impact of climate change and people’s climatic adaptational behavior in history. The results suggest that the main factor driving the millennial-scale (from Tang Dynasty to Qing Dynasty) modification of roofs is the change of extreme snowfall events.

As a symbol of civilization and culture, architecture was originally developed for sheltering people from unpleasant weather or other environmental conditions. Therefore, architecture is expected to be sensitive to climate change, particularly to changes in the occurrence of extreme weather events. However, although meteorological factors are widely considered in modern architecture design, it remains unclear whether and how ancient people adapted to climate change from the perspective of architecture design, particularly on a millennium time scale. 

Considering typical Chinese timber architecture and its high climate sensitivity, the authors analyze the remains of official architecture in northern China (from the Tang Dynasty) and relevant reconstructed temperature data in history. The study illustrates that roof pitch fluctuation has a close correlation with climate change and snowfall intensity over the past thousand years. The responses of roof modification to the climatic fluctuations indicate an intelligent long-term adaptive behavior of the ancient Chinese. They adjusted their building for a more stable and suitable roof formation when faced with various weather extremes caused by climate change. It also indicates that notable esthetic changes and technological advancements in buildings were also associated with the demands caused by climate change.

On Sep 9, 2021, Science Advances published the paper titled  Change of extreme snow events shaped the roof of traditional Chinese architecture in the past millennium( and recommended it as a research spotlight on the homepage of Science Advances and Science. After publication, the paper was reported by more than 10 scientific media including EOS (Earth and space science news and analysis from AGU), and China Science Daily.

Professor Aijun Ding from the School of Atmospheric Sciences (SAS) in Nanjing University, and Professor Quansheng Ge from Institute of Geographic Science and Natural Resources Research, CAS are corresponding authors of this paper. Dr. Siyang Li from the School of History and Dr. Ke Ding from SAS are the first authors. Co-authors on the thesis include Academician Congbin Fu, Associate Professor Xin Huang and Lejun He, a doctoral student from the School of History. The study is financially supported by the Collaborative Innovation Center for Climate Change, the Social Science Foundation of Jiangsu Province, China (20LSC008) and Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (DLTD2107).

Fig. 1. Typical Chinese timber architecture and locations of building remains

Fig. 2. Time series of HSR and air temperature anomaly in 750-1750 CE

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