A prototype global drought information system based on multiple land surface models

Bart Nijssen, Shraddhanand Shukla, Chiyu Lin, Huilin Gao, Tian Zhou, Ishottama, Justin Sheffield, Eric F. Wood, Dennis P. Lettenmaier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


The implementation of a multimodel drought monitoring system is described, which provides near-real-time estimates of surface moisture storage for the global land areas between 50°S and 50°N with a time lag of about 1 day. Near-real-time forcings are derived from satellite-based precipitation estimates and modeled air temperatures. The system distinguishes itself from other operational systems in that it uses multiple land surface models (Variable Infiltration Capacity, Noah, and Sacramento) to simulate surface moisture storage, which are then combined to derive a multimodel estimate of drought. A comparison of the results with other historic and current drought estimates demonstrates that near-real-time nowcasting of global drought conditions based on satellite and model forcings is entirely feasible. However, challenges remain because hydrological droughts are inherently defined in the context of a long-term climatology. Changes in observing platforms can be misinterpreted as droughts (or as excessively wet periods). This problem cannot simply be addressed through the addition of more observations or through the development of new observing platforms. Instead, it will require careful (re)construction of long-term records that are updated in near-real time in a consistent manner so that changes in surface meteorological forcings reflect actual conditions rather than changes in methods or sources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1661-1676
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Hydrometeorology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


  • Drought
  • Ensembles
  • Hydrologic models
  • Nowcasting


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