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The Role of Vegetation in Flash Drought Occurrence: A Sensitivity Study Using Community Earth System Model, Version 2

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  • 1 Climate and Atmospheric Sciences Section, Illinois State Water Survey, Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Champaign, Illinois
  • | 2 Department of Geography, University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware
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Abstract

Flash droughts are noted by their unusually rapid rate of onset or intensification, which makes it difficult to anticipate and prepare for them, thus resulting in severe impacts. Although the development of flash drought can be associated with certain atmospheric conditions, vegetation also plays a role in propagating flash drought. This study examines the climatology of warm season (March–September) flash drought occurrence in the United States between 1979 and 2014, and quantifies the possible impacts of vegetation on flash drought based on a set of sensitivity experiments using the Community Earth System Model, version 2 (CESM2). With atmospheric nudging, CESM2 well captures historical flash drought. Compared with NASA’s Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications, version 2 (MERRA-2), and National Climate Assessment–Land Data Assimilation System (NCA-LDAS), CESM2 shows agreement on the high flash drought frequency in the Great Plains and southeastern United States, but overestimates flash drought occurrence in the Midwest. The vegetation sensitivity experiments suggest that vegetation greening can significantly increase the flash drought frequency in the Great Plains and the western United States during the warm seasons through enhanced evapotranspiration. However, flash drought occurrence is not significantly affected by vegetation phenology in the eastern United States and Midwest due to weak land–atmosphere coupling. In response to vegetation greening, the extent of flash drought also increases, but the duration of flash drought is not sensitive to greening. This study highlights the importance of vegetation in flash drought development, and provides insights for improving flash drought monitoring and early warning.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/JHM-D-20-0214.s1.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Liang Chen, liangch@illinois.edu

Abstract

Flash droughts are noted by their unusually rapid rate of onset or intensification, which makes it difficult to anticipate and prepare for them, thus resulting in severe impacts. Although the development of flash drought can be associated with certain atmospheric conditions, vegetation also plays a role in propagating flash drought. This study examines the climatology of warm season (March–September) flash drought occurrence in the United States between 1979 and 2014, and quantifies the possible impacts of vegetation on flash drought based on a set of sensitivity experiments using the Community Earth System Model, version 2 (CESM2). With atmospheric nudging, CESM2 well captures historical flash drought. Compared with NASA’s Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications, version 2 (MERRA-2), and National Climate Assessment–Land Data Assimilation System (NCA-LDAS), CESM2 shows agreement on the high flash drought frequency in the Great Plains and southeastern United States, but overestimates flash drought occurrence in the Midwest. The vegetation sensitivity experiments suggest that vegetation greening can significantly increase the flash drought frequency in the Great Plains and the western United States during the warm seasons through enhanced evapotranspiration. However, flash drought occurrence is not significantly affected by vegetation phenology in the eastern United States and Midwest due to weak land–atmosphere coupling. In response to vegetation greening, the extent of flash drought also increases, but the duration of flash drought is not sensitive to greening. This study highlights the importance of vegetation in flash drought development, and provides insights for improving flash drought monitoring and early warning.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/JHM-D-20-0214.s1.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Liang Chen, liangch@illinois.edu

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