Using observation-driven simulations of global terrestrial hydrology and a cluster algorithm that searches for spatially connected regions of soil moisture, the authors identified 296 large-scale drought events (greater than 500 000 km2 and longer than 3 months) globally for 1950-2000. The drought events were subjected to a severity-area-duration (SAD) analysis to identify and characterize the most severe events for each continent and globally at various durations and spatial extents. An analysis of the variation of large-scale drought with SSTs revealed connections at interannual and possibly decadal time scales. Three metrics of large-scale drought (global average soil moisture, contiguous area in drought, and number of drought events shorter than 2 years) are shown to covary with ENSO SST anomalies. At longer time scales, the number of 12-month and longer duration droughts follows the smoothed variation in northern Pacific and Atlantic SSTs. Globally, the mid-1950s showed the highest drought activity and the mid-1970s to mid-1980s the lowest activity. This physically based and probabilistic approach confirms well-known droughts, such as the 1980s in the Sahel region of Africa, but also reveals many severe droughts (e.g., at high latitudes and early in the time period) that have received relatively little attention in the scientific and popular literature.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Atmospheric Science