Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Palmer Drought Index


The severity of recent droughts in semiarid regions is increasingly attributed to anthropogenic climate change, but it is unclear whether these moisture anomalies exceed those of the past and how past variability compares to future projections. On the Mongolian Plateau, a recent decade-long drought that exceeded the variability in the instrumental record was associated with economic, social, and environmental change. We evaluate this drought using an annual reconstruction of the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) spanning the last 2060 years in concert with simulations of past and future drought through the year 2100 CE. We show that although the most recent drought and pluvial were highly unusual in the last 2000 years, exceeding the 900-year return interval in both cases, these events were not unprecedented in the 2060-year reconstruction, and events of similar duration and severity occur in paleoclimate, historical, and future climate simulations. The Community Earth System Model (CESM) ensemble suggests a drying trend until at least the middle of the 21st century, when this trend reverses as a consequence of elevated precipitation. Although the potential direct effects of elevated CO2on plant water use efficiency exacerbate uncertainties about future hydroclimate trends, these results suggest that future drought projections for Mongolia are unlikely to exceed those of the last two millennia, despite projected warming.

Concepts: Precipitation, Climate, Climate change, Meteorology, 21st century, Global warming, Drought, Palmer Drought Index


Drought is expected to increase in frequency and severity in the future as a result of climate change, mainly as a consequence of decreases in regional precipitation but also because of increasing evaporation driven by global warming. Previous assessments of historic changes in drought over the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries indicate that this may already be happening globally. In particular, calculations of the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) show a decrease in moisture globally since the 1970s with a commensurate increase in the area in drought that is attributed, in part, to global warming. The simplicity of the PDSI, which is calculated from a simple water-balance model forced by monthly precipitation and temperature data, makes it an attractive tool in large-scale drought assessments, but may give biased results in the context of climate change. Here we show that the previously reported increase in global drought is overestimated because the PDSI uses a simplified model of potential evaporation that responds only to changes in temperature and thus responds incorrectly to global warming in recent decades. More realistic calculations, based on the underlying physical principles that take into account changes in available energy, humidity and wind speed, suggest that there has been little change in drought over the past 60 years. The results have implications for how we interpret the impact of global warming on the hydrological cycle and its extremes, and may help to explain why palaeoclimate drought reconstructions based on tree-ring data diverge from the PDSI-based drought record in recent years.

Concepts: Water, Earth, Precipitation, Climate, Hydrology, Water cycle, Climate change, Palmer Drought Index


The effects of natural variability, especially El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) effects, have been the focus of several recent studies on the change of drought patterns with climate change. The interannual relationship between ENSO and the global climate is not stationary and can be modulated by the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). However, the global land distribution of the dry-wet changes associated with the combination of ENSO and the PDO remains unclear. In the present study, this is investigated using a revised Palmer Drought Severity Index dataset (sc_PDSI_pm). We find that the effect of ENSO on dry-wet changes varies with the PDO phase. When in phase with the PDO, ENSO-induced dry-wet changes are magnified with respect to the canonical pattern. When out of phase, these dry-wet variations weaken or even disappear. This remarkable contrast in ENSO’s influence between the two phases of the PDO highlights exciting new avenues for obtaining improved global climate predictions. In recent decades, the PDO has turned negative with more La Niña events, implying more rain and flooding over land. La Niña-induced wet areas become wetter and the dry areas become drier and smaller due to the effects of the cold PDO phase.

Concepts: Precipitation, Climate, Weather, Climate change, Meteorology, Palmer Drought Index, Pacific decadal oscillation, Climate pattern


While the method for estimating the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) is now more closely aligned to key water balance components, a comprehensive assessment for measuring long-term droughts that recognizes meteorological, agro-ecological and hydrological perspectives and their attributions is still lacking. Based on physical approaches linked to potential evapotranspiration (PET), the PDSI in 1965-2014 showed a mixture of drying (42% of the land area) and wetting (58% of the land area) that combined to give a slightly wetting trend (0.0036 per year). Despite the smaller overall trend, there is a switch to a drying trend over the past decade (-0.023 per year). We designed numerical experiments and found that PDSI trend responding to the dramatic increase in air temperature and slight change in precipitation. The variabilities of meteorological and agro-ecological droughts were broadly comparable to various PDSI drought index. Interestingly, the hydrological drought was not completely comparable to the PDSI, which indicates that runoff in arid and semi-arid regions was not generated primarily from precipitation. Instead, fraction of glacierized areas in catchments caused large variations in the observed runoff changes.

Concepts: Water, Hydrology, Water cycle, Meteorology, Evaporation, Drought, Palmer Drought Index, Climatology


Determining the drivers of shifting forest disturbance rates remains a pressing global change issue. Large-scale forest dynamics are commonly assumed to be climate driven, but appropriately scaled disturbance histories are rarely available to assess how disturbance legacies alter subsequent disturbance rates and the climate sensitivity of disturbance. We compiled multiple tree-ring based disturbance histories from primary Picea abies forest fragments distributed throughout five European landscapes spanning the Bohemian Forest and the Carpathian Mountains. The regional chronology includes 11 595 tree cores, with ring dates spanning the years 1750 to 2000, collected from 560 inventory plots in 37 stands distributed across a 1000 km geographic gradient, amounting to the largest disturbance chronology yet constructed in Europe. Decadal disturbance rates varied significantly through time and declined after 1920, resulting in widespread increases in canopy tree age. Approximately 75% of current canopy area recruited prior to 1900. Long-term disturbance patterns were compared to an historical drought reconstruction, and further linked to spatial variation in stand structure and contemporary disturbance patterns derived from LANDSAT imagery. Historically, decadal Palmer drought severity index minima corresponded with higher rates of canopy removal. The severity of contemporary disturbances increased with each stand’s estimated time since last major disturbance, increased with mean diameter and declined with increasing within-stand structural variability. Reconstructed spatial patterns suggest that high small-scale structural variability has historically acted to reduce large-scale susceptibility and climate sensitivity of disturbance. Reduced disturbance rates since 1920, a potential legacy of high 19th century disturbance rates, have contributed to a recent region-wide increase in disturbance susceptibility. Increasingly common high-severity disturbances throughout primary Picea forests of Central Europe should be reinterpreted in light of both legacy effects (resulting in increased susceptibility) and climate change (resulting in increased exposure to extreme events). This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Time, Climate change, Forest ecology, Europe, History, Christmas tree, Copyright, Palmer Drought Index


Droughts are some of the worst natural disasters that bring significant water shortages, economic losses, and adverse social consequences. Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite data are widely used to characterize and evaluate droughts. In this work, we evaluate drought situations in the Yangtze River Basin (YRB) using the GRACE Texas Center for Space Research (CSR) mascon (mass concentration) data from 2003 to 2015. Drought events are identified by water storage deficits (WSDs) derived from GRACE data, while the drought severity evaluation is based on the water storage deficit index (WSDI), standardized WSD time series, and total water storage deficit (TWSD). The WSDI is subsequently compared with the Palmer drought severity index (PDSI), standardized precipitation index (SPI), standardized precipitation evapotranspiration index (SPEI), and standardized runoff index (SRI). The results indicate the YRB experienced increased wetness during the study period, with WSD values increasing at a rate of 5.20mm/year. Eight drought events are identified, and three major droughts occurred in 2004, 2006, and 2011, with WSDIs of -2.05, -2.38, and -1.30 and TWSDs of -620.96mm, -616.81mm, and -192.44mm, respectively. Our findings suggest that GRACE CSR mascon data can be used effectively to assess drought features in the YRB and that the WSDI facilitates robust and reliable characterization of droughts over large-scale areas.

Concepts: Water, Precipitation, China, Hydrology, Water cycle, Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, Drought, Palmer Drought Index


Sunshine is as essential as temperature and precipitation for tree growth, but sunshine duration reconstructions based on tree rings have not yet been conducted in China. In this study, we presented a 497-year sunshine duration reconstruction for the southeastern Tibetan Plateau using a width chronology of Abies forrestii from the central Hengduan Mountains. The reconstruction accounted for 53.5% of the variance in the observed sunshine during the period of 1961-2013 based on a stable and reliable linear regression. This reconstructed sunshine duration contained six sunny periods (1630-1656, 1665-1697, 1731-1781, 1793-1836, 1862-1895 and 1910-1992) and seven cloudy periods (1522-1629, 1657-1664, 1698-1730, 1782-1792, 1837-1861, 1896-1909 and 1993-2008) at a low-frequency scale. There was an increasing trend from the 16th century to the late 18th and early 19th centuries and a decreasing trend from the mid-19th to the early 21st centuries. Sunshine displayed inverse patterns to the local Palmer drought severity index on a multidecadal scale, indicating that this region likely experienced droughts under more sunshine conditions. The decrease in sunshine particularly in recent decades was mainly due to increasing atmospheric anthropogenic aerosols. In terms of the interannual variations in sunshine, weak sunshine years matched well with years of major volcanic eruptions. The significant cycles of the 2- to 7-year, 20.0-year and 35.2-year durations as well as the 60.2-year and 78.7-year durations related to the El-Niño Southern Oscillation, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation suggested that the variation in sunshine duration in the southeastern Tibetan Plateau was possibly affected by large-scale ocean-atmosphere circulations.

Concepts: Function, Reconstruction era of the United States, Reconstruction, North American Science Fiction Convention, Palmer Drought Index, 16th century, Climate pattern


Droughts are extremely widespread natural disasters, which cause the most severe losses among natural disasters. The comprehensive drought risk in Northwest China (NWC) was evaluated based on the self-calibrating (SC) Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) and copula method. The major conclusions are the following: (1) based on the rotated empirical orthogonal function (REOF), a significant consistency in the spatial distribution of the monthly averaged SC-PDSI was observed in NWC, especially in the subregions Inner Mongolia Plateau (IM), Hexi Corridor (HX), and Qiangtang Plateau (QT); (2) the largest frequency was obtained for slight drought and slight wet conditions, while extreme drought and extreme wet showed the lowest values; (3) with respect to the PDSI-th, the Clayton, Arch12, Arch12, Arch12, Arch12, and Frank played the major roles in the copula weight in the subregions IM, HX, Qinghai River Basin (QH), QT, North Xinjiang (NXJ), and South Xinjiang (SXJ), respectively. In terms of PDSI-pm, Arch12, Clayton, Gaussian, Arch12, Clayton, and Clayton dominated the weights of multi-copula functions in the regions IM, HX, QH, QT, NXJ, and SXJ, respectively; and (4) the frequency and probability of droughts in each area differed. The least drought events occurred in the QT and the most emerged in the HX for SC-PDSI.

Concepts: People's Republic of China, Erosion, Trigraph, Han Dynasty, Qing Dynasty, Palmer Drought Index, Gansu, Xiongnu


Quantitative estimates of the groundwater depletion and droughts in the Tigris-Euphrates Basin (TEB) can be useful for sustainably managing its water resources. Here, data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission are used to infer the monthly changes in the total water storage of the TEB from January 2003 to December 2015. Additionally, the data of altimetry and output from land surface models are used to remove the contributions from lake water changes and other hydrological factors to obtain the total groundwater depletion (TGWD), human-driven groundwater depletion (HGWD), and climate-driven groundwater depletion. We conclude that an alarming rate of decrease in the total water storage and the loss of TGWD have an “accelerating” trend, as the trend during 2007 to 2015 was 3.6 times that during 2003 to 2006. Moreover, the HGWD is 116.09 Gt, which accounts for 98% of the TGWD. Finally, the total storage deficit index (TSDI) is derived from the GRACE data to characterize the drought of the TEB. The results show that TSDI agrees well with the actual drought rather than the Palmer drought severity index (PDSI) and that the TEB has been undergoing a severe drought since September 2007 according to both the TSDI and PDSI. The research in this study provides an effective and unique method for understanding the hydrological processes and sustainable use of water resources in regions or countries with little data, which is essential for more efficient, sustainable, and cross-boundary cooperative water resource management.

Concepts: Water, Hydrology, Meteorology, Water resources, Water crisis, Drought, Palmer Drought Index, Keetch-Byram Drought Index


This article presents projected future drought occurrences in five river basins in Virginia. The Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) and the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) climate models were used to derive input variables of multiple drought indices, such as the Standardized Soil Moisture index (SSI), the Multivariate Standardized Drought Index (MSDI), and the Modified Palmer Drought Severity Index (MPDSI) for both historic and future periods. The results of SSI indicate that there was an overall increase in agricultural drought occurrences and that these were caused by increases in evapotranspiration and runoff. However, the results of the MSDI and MPDSI projected a decrease in drought occurrences in future periods due to a greater increase in precipitation in the future. Furthermore, GCM-downscaled products (precipitation and temperature) were verified using comparisons with historic observations, and the results of uncertainty analyses suggest that the lower and upper bounds of future drought projections agree with historic conditions.

Concepts: Water, Precipitation, Climate, Soil, Hydrology, Drought, Palmer Drought Index, Atmospheric Model Intercomparison Project