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Assessment of Drought due to Historic Climate Variability and Projected Future Climate Change in the Midwestern United States

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  • 1 Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
  • | 2 Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
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Abstract

Understanding the occurrence and variability of drought events in historic and projected future climate is essential to managing natural resources and setting policy. The Midwest region is a key contributor in corn and soybean production, and the occurrence of droughts may affect both quantity and quality of these crops. Soil moisture observations play an essential role in understanding the severity and persistence of drought. Considering the scarcity of the long-term soil moisture datasets, soil moisture observations in Illinois have been one of the best datasets for studies of soil moisture. In the present study, the authors use the existing observational dataset and then reconstruct long-term historic time series (1916–2007) of soil moisture data using a land surface model to study the effects of historic climate variability and projected future climate change on regional-scale (Illinois and Indiana) drought. The objectives of this study are to (i) estimate changes and trends associated with climate variables in historic climate variability (1916–2007) and in projected future climate change (2009–99) and (ii) identify regional-scale droughts and associated severity, areal extent, and temporal extent under historic and projected future climate using reconstructed soil moisture data and gridded climatology for the period 1916–2007 using the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) model. The authors reconstructed the soil moisture for a long-term (1916–2007) historic time series using the VIC model, which was calibrated for monthly streamflow and soil moisture at eight U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) gauge stations and Illinois Climate Network’s (ICN) soil moisture stations, respectively, and then it was evaluated for soil moisture, persistence of soil moisture, and soil temperature and heat fluxes. After calibration and evaluation, the VIC model was implemented for historic (1916–2007) and projected future climate (2009–99) periods across the study domain. The nonparametric Mann–Kendall test was used to estimate trends using the gridded climatology of precipitation and air temperature variables. Trends were also estimated for annual anomalies of soil moisture variables, snow water equivalent, and total runoff using a long-term time series of the historic period. Results indicate that precipitation, minimum air temperature, total column soil moisture, and runoff have experienced upward trends, whereas maximum air temperature, frozen soil moisture, and snow water equivalent experienced downward trends. Furthermore, the decreasing trends were significant for the frozen soil moisture in the study domain. The results demonstrate that retrospective drought periods and their severity were reconstructed using model-simulated data. Results also indicate that the study region is experiencing reduced extreme and exceptional droughts with lesser areal extent in recent decades.

Corresponding author address: Vimal Mishra, 225 S. University St., Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907. Email: vmishra@purdue.edu

Abstract

Understanding the occurrence and variability of drought events in historic and projected future climate is essential to managing natural resources and setting policy. The Midwest region is a key contributor in corn and soybean production, and the occurrence of droughts may affect both quantity and quality of these crops. Soil moisture observations play an essential role in understanding the severity and persistence of drought. Considering the scarcity of the long-term soil moisture datasets, soil moisture observations in Illinois have been one of the best datasets for studies of soil moisture. In the present study, the authors use the existing observational dataset and then reconstruct long-term historic time series (1916–2007) of soil moisture data using a land surface model to study the effects of historic climate variability and projected future climate change on regional-scale (Illinois and Indiana) drought. The objectives of this study are to (i) estimate changes and trends associated with climate variables in historic climate variability (1916–2007) and in projected future climate change (2009–99) and (ii) identify regional-scale droughts and associated severity, areal extent, and temporal extent under historic and projected future climate using reconstructed soil moisture data and gridded climatology for the period 1916–2007 using the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) model. The authors reconstructed the soil moisture for a long-term (1916–2007) historic time series using the VIC model, which was calibrated for monthly streamflow and soil moisture at eight U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) gauge stations and Illinois Climate Network’s (ICN) soil moisture stations, respectively, and then it was evaluated for soil moisture, persistence of soil moisture, and soil temperature and heat fluxes. After calibration and evaluation, the VIC model was implemented for historic (1916–2007) and projected future climate (2009–99) periods across the study domain. The nonparametric Mann–Kendall test was used to estimate trends using the gridded climatology of precipitation and air temperature variables. Trends were also estimated for annual anomalies of soil moisture variables, snow water equivalent, and total runoff using a long-term time series of the historic period. Results indicate that precipitation, minimum air temperature, total column soil moisture, and runoff have experienced upward trends, whereas maximum air temperature, frozen soil moisture, and snow water equivalent experienced downward trends. Furthermore, the decreasing trends were significant for the frozen soil moisture in the study domain. The results demonstrate that retrospective drought periods and their severity were reconstructed using model-simulated data. Results also indicate that the study region is experiencing reduced extreme and exceptional droughts with lesser areal extent in recent decades.

Corresponding author address: Vimal Mishra, 225 S. University St., Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907. Email: vmishra@purdue.edu

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