Brace For The Drier Spells

Longer and intense droughts are predicted to be more prevalent in Southeast Asia

AsianScientist (Mar. 22, 2022) — Many regions around the world are experiencing the effects of climate change, one of which is intense and prolonged drought. Researchers in China published a study in Atmospheric and Oceanic Science Letters predicting drought patterns and their propagation using historical data and recently released climate and forecast data.

Rising temperatures worldwide have led to more regions experiencing heatwaves and droughts, which can cause economic losses in sectors such as agriculture along with environmental issues such as reduced water availability for maintaining ecosystems in rainforests, rivers and oceans. Researchers led by Dr Shulei Zhang from the School of Atmospheric Sciences at the Sun Yat-Sen University looked at the propagation and relationship between three types of droughts: meteorological (a deficit in atmospheric water generation, for example rainfall), hydrological (run-off or water levels in lakes, groundwater or reservoirs) and agricultural (soil moisture).

The researchers began by quantifying these three types of droughts using historical data spanning from 1901 to 2014. At the same time, they also looked at forecast data using climate models from the recently released CMIP6 data — a standard experimental framework for studying the output of climate models — from 2015 to 2100. By studying these data, the researchers have found that some regions such as Southeast Asia, the Amazon basin, and Australia will experience intensified and prolonged drought. Other regions like the higher latitude areas and central Africa will, in contrast, experience more wetting.

The researchers further found that although all three forms of drought were predicted to occur in similar regions, meteorological drought would be more severe in its intensity and more widespread in its propagation compared to hydrological and agricultural drought. This means that less rain for longer periods of time may become more prevalent, potentially leading to further issues such as reduced water availability for consumption and agriculture use. This then led the researchers to wonder whether this increase in intensity and duration of meteorological drought would eventually translate into an increase in hydrological and agricultural drought.

The researchers found that in regions with more humidity the presence of meteorological drought correlates with the eventual presence of agricultural drought. This link becomes more apparent across longer timescales, meaning that less rainfall may lead to less water retention in soil.

By being able to understand and better forecast the patterns and intensity of droughts, the researchers believe the models and the generated data can be used as an initial step toward building more accurate and robust drought monitoring and early warning systems to better respond to and mitigate the ever-increasing adverse effects of climate change.

The article can be found at Zeng et al. (2022), Assessment of Global Meteorological, Hydrological and Agricultural Drought under Future Warming Based on CMIP6.


Source: Sun Yat-Sen University ; Photo: Shutterstock.
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