Understanding human capacity to cope with climate challenges of the distant past has great significance for adequately addressing those that we face today. Teams of researchers – including Distinguished Sustainability Scientist Margaret Nelson – working in both the American Southwest and North Atlantic islands of Iceland, Greenland and the Faroes have found that historic and prehistoric peoples who were vulnerable to food shortage were especially susceptible to climate challenges. In each instance, eight variables – ranging from social to environmental – were applied to quantify vulnerability to food shortage in the absence of climate challenges. The cases with lowest vulnerability showed no extreme social change or food shortage following climate-related disasters. Researchers also found that social factors, such as limitations on networks and mobility, were the primary contributors to food shortage vulnerability. Nelson, the lead author of a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on these findings, says the research illustrates that addressing vulnerabilities – even those that are not climate-related – is a key part of climate disaster management.