Quantifying the impact of climate change on drought regimes using the Standardised Precipitation Index

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Citations (Scopus)
15 Downloads (Pure)


The study presents a methodology to characterise short- or long-term drought events, designed to aid understanding of how climate change may affect future risk. An indicator of drought magnitude, combining parameters of duration, spatial extent and intensity, is presented based on
the Standardised Precipitation Index (SPI). The SPI is applied to observed (1955–2003) and projected (2003–2050) precipitation data from the Community Integrated Assessment System
(CIAS). Potential consequences of climate change on drought regimes in Australia, Brazil, China, Ethiopia, India, Spain, Portugal and the USA are quantified. Uncertainty is assessed by emulating a range of global circulation models to project climate change. Further uncertainty is addressed
through the use of a high-emission scenario and a low stabilisation scenario representing a stringent mitigation policy.

Climate change was shown to have a larger effect on the duration and magnitude of long-term droughts, and Australia, Brazil, Spain, Portugal and the USA were highlighted as being particularly vulnerable to multi-year drought events, with the potential for drought magnitude to exceed historical experience. The study highlights the characteristics of drought which may be more sensitive under climate change. For example, on average, short-term droughts in the USA do not
become more intense but are projected to increase in duration. Importantly, the stringent mitigation scenario had limited effect on drought regimes in the first half of the twenty-first
century, showing that adaptation to drought risk will be vital in these regions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-54
Number of pages14
JournalTheoretical and Applied Climatology
Issue number1
Early online date22 Apr 2014
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2015

Cite this