Drought Research

Catchment scale drought assessment and management in semi-arid basins


National economies worldwide are increasingly threatened by droughts affecting in particular agriculture, hydropower, navigation, forestry, urban water supply, public health and the environment. Recent drought disasters in California, southeast Brazil, central Chile or southeast Australia demonstrate that other well developed regions are not prepared to cope with unusual drought conditions neither. 

Droughts are recurrent events which will continue to compromise sustainable development, in particular as it is expected that droughts will occur more frequently in the future (Prudhomme et al., 2014; Trenberth et al., 2014). The basin-info research group aims at improving catchment scale research on drought assessment and management.  

In order to react timely and adequately to droughts, the involved sectors require relevant information provided by professional information systems. While a lot of focus is given to drought monitoring and developing skills for drought decision support, these approaches still have significant shortcomings. Most of current efforts are concentrating on large scale drought observations (global, national or regional), monitoring precipitation and soil moisture typically based on satellite data. Decision makers, however need hydrological and storage information as well as sector specific water demands and economic impacts at local or river basin scale for comprehensive decision making. Figure 1 illustrates the indicators which are relevant for drought management on catchment scale: 

Bachmair et al. (2015) in their recent European scale study carried out in the scope of the DROUGHT R&SPI project, “Exploring the link between drought indicators and impacts” state that the most appropriate indicators and thresholds they found are highly spatially variable. Thus, current drought monitoring (like the US Drought Monitor or EDO) may not be appropriate and drought indicators and thresholds need to be selected at smaller scales. As drought is closely related with the water cycle the most adequate scale is the catchment (river basin) level. Van Loon and Lahaa (2015) emphasize the key role of storage parameters for drought duration and severity. For instance, springtime and summer water availability depending on winter precipitation and snow melt as well as on the storage in reservoirs and groundwater accumulated during several months or even years is not taken into account in current large-scale drought monitoring. 

The following references provide relevant information on the recent and past drought related research:

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Bachmair, S., Kohn, I., Stahl, K. (2014) Exploring the link between drought indicators and impacts, Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci. Discuss., 2, 7583-7620, doi:10.5194/nhessd-2-7583-2014.

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