Journal of Geographical Sciences

, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 67–83 | Cite as

Spatio-temporal variations in extreme drought in China during 1961–2015

  • Jing Zhang
  • Yanjun ShenEmail author


Understanding the past variations in extreme drought is especially beneficial to the improvement of drought resistance planning and drought risk management in China. Based on the monitoring data of meteorological stations from 1961 to 2015 and a meteorological drought index, the Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI), the spatio- temporal variations in extreme drought at inter-decadal, inter-annual and seasonal scales in China were analyzed. The results revealed that 12 months cumulative precipitation with 1/2 to 5/8 of average annual precipitation will trigger extreme drought. From the period 1961–1987 to the period 1988–2015, the mean annual frequency of extreme drought (FED) increased along a strip extending from southwest China (SWC) to the western part of northeast China (NEC). The increased FED showed the highest value in spring, followed by winter, autumn and summer. There was a continuous increase in the decadal-FED from the 1990s to the 2010s on the Tibetan Plateau (TP), the southeast China (SEC) and the SW. During the period 1961–2015, the number of continuous drought stations was almost the same among 4 to 6 months and among 10 to 12 months of continuous drought, respectively. It can be inferred that drought lasting 6 or 12 months may lead to more severe drought disasters due to longer duration. The range of the longest continuous drought occurred in the 21st century had widely increased compared with that in the 1980s and the 1990s. Our findings may be helpful for water resources management and reducing the risk of drought disasters in China.


extreme drought China standardized precipitation evapotranspiration index climate change 


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The authors express their gratitude to the National Meteorological Information Center of China Meteorological Administration (CMA) and the Spanish National Research Council for providing data and the program for calculating the SPEI, respectively. We are grateful to Dr. Qiang Zhang, Dr. Fumin Ren and Dr. Leilei Min for the careful review and valuable suggestions of the manuscript. The authors also get the help and modification suggestions from Dr. Yongqing Qi, Dr. Ying Guo, Dr. Yucui Zhang, Dr. Yanfang Wang, Dan Zhou, and Xifang Wu. The authors would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers and editors for their constructive and helpful comments and suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Science in China Press and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Agricultural Water ResourcesHebei Laboratory of Agricultural Water-Saving, Center for Agricultural Resources Research, Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, CASShijiazhuangChina
  2. 2.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.Hebei Provincial Climate CentreShijiazhuangChina
  4. 4.Hebei Province Meteorological and Ecological Environment LaboratoryShijiazhuangChina

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