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Concept: Drought


California is currently in the midst of a record-setting drought. The drought began in 2012 and now includes the lowest calendar-year and 12-mo precipitation, the highest annual temperature, and the most extreme drought indicators on record. The extremely warm and dry conditions have led to acute water shortages, groundwater overdraft, critically low streamflow, and enhanced wildfire risk. Analyzing historical climate observations from California, we find that precipitation deficits in California were more than twice as likely to yield drought years if they occurred when conditions were warm. We find that although there has not been a substantial change in the probability of either negative or moderately negative precipitation anomalies in recent decades, the occurrence of drought years has been greater in the past two decades than in the preceding century. In addition, the probability that precipitation deficits co-occur with warm conditions and the probability that precipitation deficits produce drought have both increased. Climate model experiments with and without anthropogenic forcings reveal that human activities have increased the probability that dry precipitation years are also warm. Further, a large ensemble of climate model realizations reveals that additional global warming over the next few decades is very likely to create ∼100% probability that any annual-scale dry period is also extremely warm. We therefore conclude that anthropogenic warming is increasing the probability of co-occurring warm-dry conditions like those that have created the acute human and ecosystem impacts associated with the “exceptional” 2012-2014 drought in California.

Concepts: Earth, Precipitation, Climate, Climate change, Meteorology, Global warming, Extreme weather, Drought


Arid grassland ecosystems have significant interannual variation in carbon exchange; however, it is unclear how environmental factors influence carbon exchange in different hydrological years. In this study, the eddy covariance technique was used to investigate the seasonal and interannual variability of CO(2) flux over a temperate desert steppe in Inner Mongolia, China from 2008 to 2010. The amounts and times of precipitation varied significantly throughout the study period. The precipitation in 2009 (186.4 mm) was close to the long-term average (183.9±47.6 mm), while the precipitation in 2008 (136.3 mm) and 2010 (141.3 mm) was approximately a quarter below the long-term average. The temperate desert steppe showed carbon neutrality for atmospheric CO(2) throughout the study period, with a net ecosystem carbon dioxide exchange (NEE) of -7.2, -22.9, and 26.0 g C m(-2) yr(-1) in 2008, 2009, and 2010, not significantly different from zero. The ecosystem gained more carbon in 2009 compared to other two relatively dry years, while there was significant difference in carbon uptake between 2008 and 2010, although both years recorded similar annual precipitation. The results suggest that summer precipitation is a key factor determining annual NEE. The apparent quantum yield and saturation value of NEE (NEE(sat)) and the temperature sensitivity coefficient of ecosystem respiration (R(eco)) exhibited significant variations. The values of NEE(sat) were -2.6, -2.9, and -1.4 µmol CO(2) m(-2) s(-1) in 2008, 2009, and 2010, respectively. Drought suppressed both the gross primary production (GPP) and R(eco), and the drought sensitivity of GPP was greater than that of R(eco). The soil water content sensitivity of GPP was high during the dry year of 2008 with limited soil moisture availability. Our results suggest the carbon balance of this temperate desert steppe was not only sensitive to total annual precipitation, but also to its seasonal distribution.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Water, Earth, Precipitation, Climate, Soil, Hydrology, Drought


The collapse of some pre-historical and historical cultures, including Chinese dynasties were presumably linked to widespread droughts, on the basis of synchronicities of societal crises and proxy-based climate events. Here, we present a comparison of ancient inscriptions in Dayu Cave from Qinling Mountains, central China, which described accurate times and detailed impacts of seven drought events during the period of 1520-1920 CE, with high-resolution speleothem records from the same cave. The comparable results provide unique and robust tests on relationships among speleothem δ(18)O changes, drought events, and societal unrest. With direct historical evidences, our results suggest that droughts and even modest events interrupting otherwise wet intervals can cause serious social crises. Modeling results of speleothem δ(18)O series suggest that future precipitation in central China may be below the average of the past 500 years. As Qinling Mountain is the main recharge area of two large water transfer projects and habitats of many endangered species, it is imperative to explore an adaptive strategy for the decline in precipitation and/or drought events.

Concepts: Precipitation, Climate, China, Endangered species, Meteorology, Giant Panda, Adaptation, Drought


Combined effects of climate change and deforestation have altered precipitation patterns in the Amazon. This has led to changes in the frequency of extreme events of flood and drought in recent decades and in the magnitude of the annual flood pulse, a phenomenon that influences virtually all aspects of river-floodplain ecosystem dynamics. Analysis of long-term data revealed abrupt and synchronous changes in hydrology and fish assemblage structure of a floodplain lake near the confluence of Amazon and Negro rivers. After an intense drought in 2005, the assemblage assumed a different and fairly persistent taxonomic composition and functional structure. Declines in abundance after 2005 were more pronounced for species of all sizes having equilibrium life history strategy, large species with periodic life history strategy, and for all trophic levels except primary consumers. Our results suggest that the extreme drought triggered changes in the fish assemblage and subsequent anomalous hydrological conditions have hampered assemblage recovery. These findings stress the need to account for climatic-driven hydrological changes in conservation efforts addressing aquatic biodiversity and fishery resources in the central Amazon.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Ecology, Ecosystem, Hydrology, Water cycle, River, Meteorology, Drought


The Climate Hazards group Infrared Precipitation with Stations (CHIRPS) dataset builds on previous approaches to ‘smart’ interpolation techniques and high resolution, long period of record precipitation estimates based on infrared Cold Cloud Duration (CCD) observations. The algorithm i) is built around a 0.05° climatology that incorporates satellite information to represent sparsely gauged locations, ii) incorporates daily, pentadal, and monthly 1981-present 0.05° CCD-based precipitation estimates, iii) blends station data to produce a preliminary information product with a latency of about 2 days and a final product with an average latency of about 3 weeks, and iv) uses a novel blending procedure incorporating the spatial correlation structure of CCD-estimates to assign interpolation weights. We present the CHIRPS algorithm, global and regional validation results, and show how CHIRPS can be used to quantify the hydrologic impacts of decreasing precipitation and rising air temperatures in the Greater Horn of Africa. Using the Variable Infiltration Capacity model, we show that CHIRPS can support effective hydrologic forecasts and trend analyses in southeastern Ethiopia.

Concepts: Time, Ethiopia, Precipitation, Hydrology, Meteorology, Surface runoff, Drought, Horn of Africa


Cercozoa are abundant free-living soil protozoa and quantitatively important in soil food webs; yet, targeted high-throughput sequencing (HTS) has not yet been applied to this group. Here we describe the development of a targeted assay to explore Cercozoa using HTS, and we apply this assay to measure Cercozoan community response to drought in a Danish climate manipulation experiment (two sites exposed to artificial drought, two unexposed). Based on a comparison of the hypervariable regions of the 18S ribosomal DNA of 193 named Cercozoa, we concluded that the V4 region is the most suitable for group-specific diversity analysis. We then designed a set of highly specific primers (encompassing ~270 bp) for 454 sequencing. The primers captured all major cercozoan groups; and >95% of the obtained sequences were from Cercozoa. From 443 350 high-quality short reads (>300 bp), we recovered 1585 operational taxonomic units defined by >95% V4 sequence similarity. Taxonomic annotation by phylogeny enabled us to assign >95% of our reads to order level and ~85% to genus level despite the presence of a large, hitherto unknown diversity. Over 40% of the annotated sequences were assigned to Glissomonad genera, whereas the most common individually named genus was the euglyphid Trinema. Cercozoan diversity was largely resilient to drought, although we observed a community composition shift towards fewer testate amoebae.

Concepts: Genetics, Biology, Species, Soil, DNA sequencing, Sequence, Genus, Drought


The western United States has been experiencing severe drought since 2013. The solid earth response to the accompanying loss of surface and near-surface water mass should be a broad region of uplift. We use seasonally-adjusted time series from continuously operating GPS stations to measure this uplift, which we invert to estimate mass loss. The median uplift is 4 mm, with values up to 15 mm in California’s mountains. The associated pattern of mass loss, which ranges up to 50 cm of water equivalent, is consistent with observed decreases in precipitation and streamflow. We estimate the total deficit to be about 240 Gt, equivalent to a 10 cm layer of water over the entire region, or the annual mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Concepts: United States, Greenland ice sheet, Precipitation, Hydrology, Solid, Erosion, Meteorology, Drought


Insectivorous birds have been recognized as disproportionately sensitive to land-use intensification and habitat loss, with those species feeding primarily on the ground exhibiting some of the most dramatic declines. Altered litter inputs and availability of epigeic arthropods have been suggested to underlie reduced abundances and shrinking distributions but direct evidence is lacking. I used a patch-scale removal experiment in southern Australia to evaluate whether ground-feeding insectivores are especially vulnerable to altered litter-fall. Building on work demonstrating the importance of mistletoe litter to nutrient dynamics, litter was reduced by removing mistletoe (Loranthaceae) from one set of eucalypt woodlands, responses of birds three years after mistletoe removal compared with otherwise similar control woodlands containing mistletoe. Despite not feeding on mistletoes directly, insectivores exhibited the greatest response to mistletoe removal. Among woodland residents, ground-foraging insectivores showed the most dramatic response; treatment woodlands losing an average of 37.4% of their pre-treatment species richness. Once these 19 species of ground-foraging insectivores were excluded, remaining woodland species showed no significant effect of mistletoe removal. This response reflects greater initial losses in treatment woodlands during the study (which coincided with a severe drought) and double the number of species returning to control woodlands (where mistletoe numbers and litter were not manipulated) post-drought. These findings support the productivity-based explanation of declining insectivores, suggesting diminished litter-fall reduced habitat quality for these birds via decreased availability of their preferred prey. In addition to altered prey availability, interactions between litter-fall and epigeic arthropods exemplify the importance of below-ground / above-ground linkages driving ecosystem function.

Concepts: Insect, Plant, Woodland, Mistletoe, Drought, Santalales, Loranthaceae, Insectivore


East Africa is a drought prone, food and water insecure region with a highly variable climate. This complexity makes rainfall estimation challenging, and this challenge is compounded by low rain gauge densities and inhomogeneous monitoring networks. The dearth of observations is particularly problematic over the past decade, since the number of records in globally accessible archives has fallen precipitously. This lack of data coincides with an increasing scientific and humanitarian need to place recent seasonal and multi-annual East African precipitation extremes in a deep historic context. To serve this need, scientists from the UC Santa Barbara Climate Hazards Group and Florida State University have pooled their station archives and expertise to produce a high quality gridded ‘Centennial Trends’ precipitation dataset. Additional observations have been acquired from the national meteorological agencies and augmented with data provided by other universities. Extensive quality control of the data was carried out and seasonal anomalies interpolated using kriging. This paper documents the CenTrends methodology and data.

Concepts: Water, Precipitation, Weather, Meteorology, East Africa, Drought, Rain, Horn of Africa


The recent global warming slowdown or hiatus after the big El Niño event in 1997/98 raises the questions of whether terrestrial hydrological cycle is being decelerated and how do the hydrological extremes respond to the hiatus. However, the rapidly developing drought events that are termed as “flash droughts” accompanied by extreme heat, low soil moisture and high evapotranspiration (ET), occurred frequently around the world, and caused devastating impacts on crop yields and water supply. Here, we investigate the long-term trend and variability of flash droughts over China. Flash droughts are most likely to occur over humid and semi-humid regions, such as southern and northeastern China. Flash drought averaged over China increased by 109% from 1979 to 2010, and the increase was mainly due to a long term warming of temperature (50%), followed by the contributions from decreasing soil moisture and increasing ET. There was a slight drop in temperature after 1997, but the increasing trend of flash droughts was tripled. Further results indicate that the decreasing temperature was compensated by the accelerated drying trends of soil moisture and enhanced ET, leading to an acceleration of flash droughts during the warming hiatus. The anthropogenic warming in the next few decades may exacerbate future flash drought conditions in China.

Concepts: Precipitation, Hydrology, Climate change, Erosion, Evaporation, Global warming, Drought, Climate change and agriculture