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Global warming and changes in drought

Nature Climate Change volume 4, pages 1722 (2014) | Download Citation

Abstract

Several recently published studies have produced apparently conflicting results of how drought is changing under climate change. The reason is thought to lie in the formulation of the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) and the data sets used to determine the evapotranspiration component. Here, we make an assessment of the issues with the PDSI in which several other sources of discrepancy emerge, not least how precipitation has changed and is analysed. As well as an improvement in the precipitation data available, accurate attribution of the causes of drought requires accounting for natural variability, especially El Niño/Southern Oscillation effects, owing to the predilection for wetter land during La Niña events. Increased heating from global warming may not cause droughts but it is expected that when droughts occur they are likely to set in quicker and be more intense.

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Acknowledgements

The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. P.D.J. has been supported by the US Department of Energy (Grant DE-SC0005689). K.R.B. acknowledges support from UK NERC (NE/G018863/1).

Author information

Affiliations

  1. National Center for Atmospheric Research, PO Box 3000, Boulder, Colorado 80307-3000, USA

    • Kevin E. Trenberth
    •  & Aiguo Dai
  2. Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, State University of New York at Albany, Albany, New York 12222, USA

    • Aiguo Dai
  3. Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK

    • Gerard van der Schrier
    • , Philip D. Jones
    • , Jonathan Barichivich
    •  & Keith R. Briffa
  4. Climate Services Department, Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, 3730 AE De Bilt, the Netherlands

    • Gerard van der Schrier
  5. Center of Excellence for Climate Change Research, Department of Meteorology, King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah 21589, Saudi Arabia

    • Philip D. Jones
  6. Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement, CEA-CNRS-UVSQ, L'Orme des Merisiers, 91191 Gif-sur-Yvette, France

    • Jonathan Barichivich
  7. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544, USA

    • Justin Sheffield

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kevin E. Trenberth.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2067

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