Evaluating Uncertainties in the Projection of Future Drought

Eleanor J. Burke Hadley Centre, Met Office, Exeter, United Kingdom

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Simon J. Brown Hadley Centre, Met Office, Exeter, United Kingdom

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Abstract

The uncertainty in the projection of future drought occurrence was explored for four different drought indices using two model ensembles. The first ensemble expresses uncertainty in the parameter space of the third Hadley Centre climate model, and the second is a multimodel ensemble that additionally expresses structural uncertainty in the climate modeling process. The standardized precipitation index (SPI), the precipitation and potential evaporation anomaly (PPEA), the Palmer drought severity index (PDSI), and the soil moisture anomaly (SMA) were derived for both a single CO2 (1×CO2) and a double CO2 (2×CO2) climate. The change in moderate drought, defined by the 20th percentile of the relevant 1×CO2 distribution, was calculated. SPI, based solely on precipitation, shows little change in the proportion of the land surface in drought. All the other indices, which include a measure of the atmospheric demand for moisture, show a significant increase with an additional 5%–45% of the land surface in drought. There are large uncertainties in regional changes in drought. Regions where the precipitation decreases show a reproducible increase in drought across ensemble members and indices. In other regions the sign and magnitude of the change in drought is dependent on index definition and ensemble member, suggesting that the selection of appropriate drought indices is important for impact studies.

Corresponding author address: Eleanor J. Burke, Hadley Centre, Met Office, Fitzroy Road, Exeter EX1 3PB, United Kingdom. Email: eleanor.burke@metoffice.gov.uk

Abstract

The uncertainty in the projection of future drought occurrence was explored for four different drought indices using two model ensembles. The first ensemble expresses uncertainty in the parameter space of the third Hadley Centre climate model, and the second is a multimodel ensemble that additionally expresses structural uncertainty in the climate modeling process. The standardized precipitation index (SPI), the precipitation and potential evaporation anomaly (PPEA), the Palmer drought severity index (PDSI), and the soil moisture anomaly (SMA) were derived for both a single CO2 (1×CO2) and a double CO2 (2×CO2) climate. The change in moderate drought, defined by the 20th percentile of the relevant 1×CO2 distribution, was calculated. SPI, based solely on precipitation, shows little change in the proportion of the land surface in drought. All the other indices, which include a measure of the atmospheric demand for moisture, show a significant increase with an additional 5%–45% of the land surface in drought. There are large uncertainties in regional changes in drought. Regions where the precipitation decreases show a reproducible increase in drought across ensemble members and indices. In other regions the sign and magnitude of the change in drought is dependent on index definition and ensemble member, suggesting that the selection of appropriate drought indices is important for impact studies.

Corresponding author address: Eleanor J. Burke, Hadley Centre, Met Office, Fitzroy Road, Exeter EX1 3PB, United Kingdom. Email: eleanor.burke@metoffice.gov.uk

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