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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 16, issue 8 | Copyright
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 16, 2437-2451, 2012
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-16-2437-2012
© Author(s) 2012. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 03 Aug 2012

Research article | 03 Aug 2012

A generic method for hydrological drought identification across different climate regions

M. H. J. van Huijgevoort1, P. Hazenberg1,*, H. A. J. van Lanen1, and R. Uijlenhoet1 M. H. J. van Huijgevoort et al.
  • 1Hydrology and Quantitative Water Management Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands
  • *now at: Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA

Abstract. The identification of hydrological drought at global scale has received considerable attention during the last decade. However, climate-induced variation in runoff across the world makes such analyses rather complicated. This especially holds for the drier regions of the world (both cold and warm), where, for a considerable period of time, zero runoff can be observed. In the current paper, we present a method that enables to identify drought at global scale across climate regimes in a consistent manner. The method combines the characteristics of the classical variable threshold level method that is best applicable in regions with non-zero runoff most of the time, and the consecutive dry days (period) method that is better suited for areas where zero runoff occurs. The newly presented method allows a drought in periods with runoff to continue in the following period without runoff. The method is demonstrated by identifying droughts from discharge observations of four rivers situated within different climate regimes, as well as from simulated runoff data at global scale obtained from an ensemble of five different land surface models. The identified drought events obtained by the new approach are compared to those resulting from application of the variable threshold level method or the consecutive dry period method separately. Results show that, in general, for drier regions, the threshold level method overestimates drought duration, because zero runoff periods are included in a drought, according to the definition used within this method. The consecutive dry period method underestimates drought occurrence, since it cannot identify droughts for periods with runoff. The developed method especially shows its relevance in transitional areas, because, in wetter regions, results are identical to the classical threshold level method. By combining both methods, the new method is able to identify single drought events that occur during positive and zero runoff periods, leading to a more realistic global drought characterization, especially within drier environments.

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