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The role of temperature in drought projections over North America

Abstract

The effects of future temperature and hence evapotranspiration increases on drought risk over North America, based on ten current (1970–1999) and ten corresponding future (2040–2069) Regional Climate Model (RCM) simulations from the North American Regional Climate Change Assessment Program, are presented in this study. The ten pairs of simulations considered in this study are based on six RCMs and four driving Atmosphere Ocean Coupled Global Climate Models. The effects of temperature and evapotranspiration on drought risks are assessed by comparing characteristics of drought events identified on the basis of Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) and Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspration Index (SPEI). The former index uses only precipitation, while the latter uses the difference (DIF) between precipitation and potential evapotranspiration (PET) as input variables. As short- and long-term droughts impact various sectors differently, multi-scale (ranging from 1- to 12-month) drought events are considered. The projected increase in mean temperature by more than 2 °C in the future period compared to the current period for most parts of North America results in large increases in PET and decreases in DIF for the future period, especially for low latitude regions of North America. These changes result in large increases in future drought risks for most parts of the USA and southern Canada. Though similar results are obtained with SPI, the projected increases in the drought characteristics such as severity and duration and the spatial extent of regions susceptible to drought risks in the future are considerably larger in the case of SPEI-based analysis. Both approaches suggest that long-term and extreme drought events are affected more by the future increases in temperature and PET than short-term and moderate drought events, particularly over the high drought risk regions of North America.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank the North American Regional Climate Change Assessment Program (NARCCAP) for providing the data used in this paper. This research was funded by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Ouranos Consortium and HydroQuebec. The authors would like to thank three anonymous referees for their very helpful comments.

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Correspondence to Dae Il Jeong.

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Jeong, D.I., Sushama, L. & Naveed Khaliq, M. The role of temperature in drought projections over North America. Climatic Change 127, 289–303 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-014-1248-3

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Keywords

  • Standardize Precipitation Index
  • Drought Event
  • Palmer Drought Severity Index
  • Drought Risk
  • Drought Duration