A papyrus text from ancient Egypt describes a famine, which scientists now believe was caused by volcano-induced climate change. (University of Warsaw and Yale University)

The leaders of ancient Egypt knew a thing or two about natural disasters.

Handle a famine or drought badly as pharaoh, and you could have empire-wide revolt on your hands.

A new study shows how big a role climate change and natural disasters likely played in sparking such political uprisings. And it suggests that despite frequent famines, the Egyptian rulers failed to grasp just how vulnerable they were to environmental devastation right up until the day their empire collapsed. It is a lesson contemporary leaders may find both instructive and alarming as they increasingly cope with one freakish weather event after another, from devastating hurricanes to wildfires.

The study — published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications — combines ice core dating of ancient volcanic eruptions with papyrus records of uprisings to show that each time there was a volcanic eruption during Egypt's Ptolemaic period, it led almost inevitably to unhappiness and revolt.