Global Drought Information System - Drought Characterization, Occurrence, Driving Mechanisms, and Predictability Worldwide (GDIS Worldwide)

Description:

This special collection of the Journal of Climate is devoted to our understanding of drought throughout the world. The idea for this collection came about as a recommendation of a 2012 international workshop on the development of a Global Drought Information System (GDIS) sponsored by WCRP and various partner organizations (ESA-ESRIN, NASA, NIDIS, NSF, GEO, USCLIVAR, and NOAA). The collection is an important step in the development of a GDIS, providing a comprehensive overview of the state of our understanding of drought, as well as recent research advances. Individual papers solicited for this collection focus on specific large regions/continents that collectively encompass most of the world. Specific aspects of drought that are considered include its overall characterization and metrics, key physical mechanisms and drivers, impacts, trends, and predictability. A synthesis paper attempts to organize the many facets of drought throughout the world into a global view as well as to provide an overall assessment of high priority drought research challenges.

Collection organizers:
Ronald Stewart, University of Manitoba
Siegfried Schubert, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Global Drought Information System - Drought Characterization, Occurrence, Driving Mechanisms, and Predictability Worldwide (GDIS Worldwide)

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Mathew Barlow, Benjamin Zaitchik, Shlomit Paz, Emily Black, Jason Evans, and Andrew Hoell

Abstract

The Middle East and southwest Asia are a region that is water stressed, societally vulnerable, and prone to severe droughts. Large-scale climate variability, particularly La Niña, appears to play an important role in regionwide droughts, including the two most severe of the last 50 years—1999–2001 and 2007/08—with implications for drought forecasting. Important dynamical factors include orography, thermodynamic influence on vertical motion, storm-track changes, and moisture transport. Vegetation in the region is strongly impacted by drought and may provide an important feedback mechanism. In future projections, drying of the eastern Mediterranean region is a robust feature, as are temperature increases throughout the region, which will affect evaporation and the timing and intensity of snowmelt. Vegetation feedbacks may become more important in a warming climate. There are a wide range of outstanding issues for understanding, monitoring, and predicting drought in the region, including dynamics of the regional storm track, the relative importance of the range of dynamical mechanisms related to drought, the regional coherence of drought, the relationship between synoptic-scale mechanisms and drought, the predictability of vegetation and crop yields, the stability of remote influences, data uncertainty, and the role of temperature. Development of a regional framework for cooperative work and dissemination of information and existing forecasts would speed understanding and make better use of available information.

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Siegfried D. Schubert, Ronald E. Stewart, Hailan Wang, Mathew Barlow, Ernesto H. Berbery, Wenju Cai, Martin P. Hoerling, Krishna K. Kanikicharla, Randal D. Koster, Bradfield Lyon, Annarita Mariotti, Carlos R. Mechoso, Omar V. Müller, Belen Rodriguez-Fonseca, Richard Seager, Sonia I. Seneviratne, Lixia Zhang, and Tianjun Zhou

Abstract

Drought affects virtually every region of the world, and potential shifts in its character in a changing climate are a major concern. This article presents a synthesis of current understanding of meteorological drought, with a focus on the large-scale controls on precipitation afforded by sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies, land surface feedbacks, and radiative forcings. The synthesis is primarily based on regionally focused articles submitted to the Global Drought Information System (GDIS) collection together with new results from a suite of atmospheric general circulation model experiments intended to integrate those studies into a coherent view of drought worldwide. On interannual time scales, the preeminence of ENSO as a driver of meteorological drought throughout much of the Americas, eastern Asia, Australia, and the Maritime Continent is now well established, whereas in other regions (e.g., Europe, Africa, and India), the response to ENSO is more ephemeral or nonexistent. Northern Eurasia, central Europe, and central and eastern Canada stand out as regions with few SST-forced impacts on precipitation on interannual time scales. Decadal changes in SST appear to be a major factor in the occurrence of long-term drought, as highlighted by apparent impacts on precipitation of the late 1990s “climate shifts” in the Pacific and Atlantic SST. Key remaining research challenges include (i) better quantification of unforced and forced atmospheric variability as well as land–atmosphere feedbacks, (ii) better understanding of the physical basis for the leading modes of climate variability and their predictability, and (iii) quantification of the relative contributions of internal decadal SST variability and forced climate change to long-term drought.

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Omar V. Müller, Ernesto Hugo Berbery, Domingo Alcaraz-Segura, and Michael B. Ek
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Belen Rodríguez-Fonseca, Elsa Mohino, Carlos R. Mechoso, Cyril Caminade, Michela Biasutti, Marco Gaetani, J. Garcia-Serrano, Edward K. Vizy, Kerry Cook, Yongkang Xue, Irene Polo, Teresa Losada, Leonard Druyan, Bernard Fontaine, Juergen Bader, Francisco J. Doblas-Reyes, Lisa Goddard, Serge Janicot, Alberto Arribas, William Lau, Andrew Colman, M. Vellinga, David P. Rowell, Fred Kucharski, and Aurore Voldoire

Abstract

The Sahel experienced a severe drought during the 1970s and 1980s after wet periods in the 1950s and 1960s. Although rainfall partially recovered since the 1990s, the drought had devastating impacts on society. Most studies agree that this dry period resulted primarily from remote effects of sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies amplified by local land surface–atmosphere interactions. This paper reviews advances made during the last decade to better understand the impact of global SST variability on West African rainfall at interannual to decadal time scales. At interannual time scales, a warming of the equatorial Atlantic and Pacific/Indian Oceans results in rainfall reduction over the Sahel, and positive SST anomalies over the Mediterranean Sea tend to be associated with increased rainfall. At decadal time scales, warming over the tropics leads to drought over the Sahel, whereas warming over the North Atlantic promotes increased rainfall. Prediction systems have evolved from seasonal to decadal forecasting. The agreement among future projections has improved from CMIP3 to CMIP5, with a general tendency for slightly wetter conditions over the central part of the Sahel, drier conditions over the western part, and a delay in the monsoon onset. The role of the Indian Ocean, the stationarity of teleconnections, the determination of the leader ocean basin in driving decadal variability, the anthropogenic role, the reduction of the model rainfall spread, and the improvement of some model components are among the most important remaining questions that continue to be the focus of current international projects.

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Lixia Zhang and Tianjun Zhou

Abstract

East Asia is greatly impacted by drought. North and southwest China are the regions with the highest drought frequency and maximum duration. At the interannual time scale, drought in the eastern part of East Asia is mainly dominated by two teleconnection patterns (i.e., the Pacific–Japan and Silk Road teleconnections). The former is forced by SST anomalies in the western North Pacific and the tropical Indian Ocean during El Niño decaying year summers. The precipitation anomaly features a meridional tripolar or sandwich pattern. The latter is forced by Indian monsoon heating and is a propagation of stationary Rossby waves along the Asian jet in the upper troposphere. It can significantly influence the precipitation over north China. Regarding the long-term trend, there exists an increasing drought trend over central parts of northern China and a decreasing tendency over northwestern China from the 1950s to the present. The increased drought in north China results from a weakened tendency of summer monsoons, which is mainly driven by the phase transition of the Pacific decadal oscillation. East Asian summer precipitation is poorly simulated and predicted by current state-of-the-art climate models. Encouragingly, the predictability of atmospheric circulation is high because of the forcing of ENSO and the associated teleconnection patterns. Under the SRES A1B scenario and doubled CO2 simulations, most climate models project an increasing drought frequency and intensity over southeastern Asia. Nevertheless, uncertainties exist in the projections as a result of the selection of climate models and the choice of drought index.

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Bradfield Lyon

Abstract

This paper provides a review of atmospheric circulation and sea surface temperature (SST) conditions that are associated with meteorological drought on the seasonal time scale in the Greater Horn of Africa (the region 10°S–15°N, 30°–52°E). New findings regarding a post-1998 increase in drought frequency during the March–May (MAM) “long rains” are also reported. The period 1950–2010 is emphasized, although rainfall and SST data from 1901–2010 are used to place the recent long rains decline in a multidecadal context. For the latter case, climate model simulations and isolated basin SST experiments are also utilized.

Climatologically, rainfall exhibits a unimodal June–August (JJA) maximum in west-central Ethiopia with a generally bimodal [MAM and October–December (OND) maxima] distribution in locations to the south and east. Emphasis will be on these three seasons. SST anomalies in the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans show the strongest association with drought during OND in locations having a bimodal annual cycle, with weaker associations during MAM. The influence of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon critically depends on its ability to affect SSTs outside the Pacific. Salient features of the anomalous atmospheric circulation during drought events in different locations and seasons are discussed. The post-1998 decline in the long rains is found to be driven strongly (although not necessarily exclusively) by natural multidecadal variability in the tropical Pacific rather than anthropogenic climate change. This conclusion is supported by observational analyses and climate model experiments, which are presented.

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Omar V. Müller, Ernesto Hugo Berbery, Domingo Alcaraz-Segura, and Michael B. Ek

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This work discusses the land surface–atmosphere interactions during the severe drought of 2008 in southern South America, which was among the most severe in the last 50 years in terms of both intensity and extent. Once precipitation returned to normal values, it took about two months for the soil moisture content and vegetation to recover. The land surface effects were examined by contrasting long-term simulations using a consistent set of satellite-derived annually varying land surface biophysical properties against simulations using the conventional land-cover types in the Weather Research and Forecasting Model–Noah land surface model (WRF–Noah). The new land-cover dataset is based on ecosystem functional properties that capture changes in vegetation status due to climate anomalies and land-use changes.

The results show that the use of realistic information of vegetation states enhances the model performance, reducing the precipitation biases over the drought region and over areas of excessive precipitation. The precipitation bias reductions are attributed to the corresponding changes in greenness fraction, leaf area index, stomatal resistance, and surface roughness. The temperature simulation shows a generalized increase, which is attributable to a lower vegetation greenness and a doubling of the stomatal resistance that reduces the evapotranspiration rate. The increase of temperature has a beneficial effect toward the eastern part of the domain with a notable reduction of the bias, but not over the central region where the bias is increased. The overall results suggest that an improved representation of the surface processes may contribute to improving the predictive skill of the model system.

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Richard Seager and Martin Hoerling

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The atmospheric and oceanic causes of North American droughts are examined using observations and ensemble climate simulations. The models indicate that oceanic forcing of annual mean precipitation variability accounts for up to 40% of total variance in northeastern Mexico, the southern Great Plains, and the Gulf Coast states but less than 10% in central and eastern Canada. Observations and models indicate robust tropical Pacific and tropical North Atlantic forcing of annual mean precipitation and soil moisture with the most heavily influenced areas being in southwestern North America and the southern Great Plains. In these regions, individual wet and dry years, droughts, and decadal variations are well reproduced in atmosphere models forced by observed SSTs. Oceanic forcing was important in causing multiyear droughts in the 1950s and at the turn of the twenty-first century, although a similar ocean configuration in the 1970s was not associated with drought owing to an overwhelming influence of internal atmospheric variability. Up to half of the soil moisture deficits during severe droughts in the southeast United States in 2000, Texas in 2011, and the central Great Plains in 2012 were related to SST forcing, although SST forcing was an insignificant factor for northern Great Plains drought in 1988. During the early twenty-first century, natural decadal swings in tropical Pacific and North Atlantic SSTs have contributed to a dry regime for the United States. Long-term changes caused by increasing trace gas concentrations are now contributing to a modest signal of soil moisture depletion, mainly over the U.S. Southwest, thereby prolonging the duration and severity of naturally occurring droughts.

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Wenju Cai, Ariaan Purich, Tim Cowan, Peter van Rensch, and Evan Weller

Abstract

The Australian decade-long “Millennium Drought” broke in the summer of 2010/11 and was considered the most severe drought since instrumental records began in the 1900s. A crucial question is whether climate change played a role in inducing the rainfall deficit. The climate modes in question include the Indian Ocean dipole (IOD), affecting southern Australia in winter and spring; the southern annular mode (SAM) with an opposing influence on southern Australia in winter to that in spring; and El Niño–Southern Oscillation, affecting northern and eastern Australia in most seasons and southeastern Australia in spring through its coherence with the IOD. Furthermore, the poleward edge of the Southern Hemisphere Hadley cell, which indicates the position of the subtropical dry zone, has possible implications for recent rainfall declines in autumn. Using observations and simulations from phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5), it is shown that the drought over southwest Western Australia is partly attributable to a long-term upward SAM trend, which contributed to half of the winter rainfall reduction in this region. For southeast Australia, models simulate weak trends in the pertinent climate modes. In particular, they severely underestimate the observed poleward expansion of the subtropical dry zone and associated impacts. Thus, although climate models generally suggest that Australia’s Millennium Drought was mostly due to multidecadal variability, some late-twentieth-century changes in climate modes that influence regional rainfall are partially attributable to anthropogenic greenhouse warming.

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Siegfried D. Schubert, Hailan Wang, Randal D. Koster, Max J. Suarez, and Pavel Ya. Groisman

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This article reviews the understanding of the characteristics and causes of northern Eurasian summertime heat waves and droughts. Additional insights into the nature of temperature and precipitation variability in Eurasia on monthly to decadal time scales and into the causes and predictability of the most extreme events are gained from the latest generation of reanalyses and from supplemental simulations with the NASA Goddard Earth Observing System model, version 5 (GEOS-5). Key new results are 1) the identification of the important role of summertime stationary Rossby waves in the development of the leading patterns of monthly Eurasian surface temperature and precipitation variability (including the development of extreme events such as the 2010 Russian heat wave); 2) an assessment of the mean temperature and precipitation changes that have occurred over northern Eurasia in the last three decades and their connections to decadal variability and global trends in SST; and 3) the quantification (via a case study) of the predictability of the most extreme simulated heat wave/drought events, with some focus on the role of soil moisture in the development and maintenance of such events. A literature survey indicates a general consensus that the future holds an enhanced probability of heat waves across northern Eurasia, while there is less agreement regarding future drought, reflecting a greater uncertainty in soil moisture and precipitation projections. Substantial uncertainties remain in the understanding of heat waves and drought, including the nature of the interactions between the short-term atmospheric variability associated with such extremes and the longer-term variability and trends associated with soil moisture feedbacks, SST anomalies, and an overall warming world.

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