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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 22, issue 4 | Copyright
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 22, 2269-2284, 2018
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-22-2269-2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 16 Apr 2018

Research article | 16 Apr 2018

Reconstruction of droughts in India using multiple land-surface models (1951–2015)

Vimal Mishra1, Reepal Shah1, Syed Azhar1, Harsh Shah1, Parth Modi1, and Rohini Kumar2 Vimal Mishra et al.
  • 1Civil Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Gandhinagar, Gujarat, 382355, India
  • 2UFZ-Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Leipzig, Germany

Abstract. India has witnessed some of the most severe historical droughts in the current decade, and severity, frequency, and areal extent of droughts have been increasing. As a large part of the population of India is dependent on agriculture, soil moisture drought affecting agricultural activities (crop yields) has significant impacts on socio-economic conditions. Due to limited observations, soil moisture is generally simulated using land-surface hydrological models (LSMs); however, these LSM outputs have uncertainty due to many factors, including errors in forcing data and model parameterization. Here we reconstruct agricultural drought events over India during the period of 1951–2015 based on simulated soil moisture from three LSMs, the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC), the Noah, and the Community Land Model (CLM). Based on simulations from the three LSMs, we find that major drought events occurred in 1987, 2002, and 2015 during the monsoon season (June through September). During the Rabi season (November through February), major soil moisture droughts occurred in 1966, 1973, 2001, and 2003. Soil moisture droughts estimated from the three LSMs are comparable in terms of their spatial coverage; however, differences are found in drought severity. Moreover, we find a higher uncertainty in simulated drought characteristics over a large part of India during the major crop-growing season (Rabi season, November to February: NDJF) compared to those of the monsoon season (June to September: JJAS). Furthermore, uncertainty in drought estimates is higher for severe and localized droughts. Higher uncertainty in the soil moisture droughts is largely due to the difference in model parameterizations (especially soil depth), resulting in different persistence of soil moisture simulated by the three LSMs. Our study highlights the importance of accounting for the LSMs' uncertainty and consideration of the multi-model ensemble system for the real-time monitoring and prediction of drought over India.

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