Anthropogenic warming is anticipated to increase soil moisture drought in the future. However, projections are accompanied by large uncertainty due to varying estimates of future warming. Here, using an ensemble of hydrological and land-surface models, forced with bias-corrected downscaled general circulation model output, we estimate the impacts of 1–3 K global mean temperature increases on soil moisture droughts in Europe. Compared to the 1.5 K Paris target, an increase of 3 K—which represents current projected temperature change—is found to increase drought area by 40% (±24%), affecting up to 42% (±22%) more of the population. Furthermore, an event similar to the 2003 drought is shown to become twice as frequent; thus, due to their increased occurrence, events of this magnitude will no longer be classified as extreme. In the absence of effective mitigation, Europe will therefore face unprecedented increases in soil moisture drought, presenting new challenges for adaptation across the continent.

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This study was partially performed under a contract for the Copernicus Climate Change Service (edge.climate.copernicus.eu). ECMWF implements this service and the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service on behalf of the European Commission. This study has been mainly funded within the scope of the HOKLIM project (www.ufz.de/hoklim) by the German Ministry for Education and Research (grant number 01LS1611A). We would like to thank P. Greve for providing data included in Supplementary Fig. 4. We acknowledge the funding from NWO Rubicon 825.15.003. We acknowledge the E-OBS dataset from the EU FP6 project ENSEMBLES (http://ensembles-eu.metoffice.com) and the data providers in the ECA&D project (http://www.ecad.eu). We would like to thank people from various organizations and projects for kindly providing us with the data that were used in this study, which includes ISI-MIP, JRC, NASA, GRDC, BGR and ISRIC. This study was carried out within the Helmholtz-Association climate initiative REKLIM (www.reklim.de).

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Author notes

    • M. Zink

    Present address: European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, Reading, UK

  1. These authors contributed equally: L. Samaniego and S. Thober.


  1. UFZ-Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Leipzig, Germany

    • L. Samaniego
    • , S. Thober
    • , R. Kumar
    • , O. Rakovec
    • , M. Zink
    •  & A. Marx
  2. Physical Geography, Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands

    • N. Wanders
  3. Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Czech University of Life Sciences, Prague, Czech Republic

    • O. Rakovec
  4. Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA

    • M. Pan
    •  & E. F. Wood
  5. Geography and Environment, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK

    • J. Sheffield


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L.S. and S.T. designed the study and wrote the manuscript. S.T., R.K., N.W. and M.P. conducted the model runs. O.R. and M.Z. conducted analysis of the data. All authors contributed to interpreting results.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to L. Samaniego.

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