Exploring the linkage between drought, high temperatures, and hydrologic sensitivities: A case study of the 2012 Great Plains drought.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 9:00 AM
Ben Livneh, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, Boulder, CO, United States and Martin P Hoerling, NOAA Boulder, ESRL, Boulder, CO, United States
The occurrence of drought is associated with agricultural loss, water supply shortfalls, and other economic impacts. Here we explore the physical relationships between precipitation deficits, high temperatures, and hydrologic responses as a pathway to better anticipate drought impacts. Current methodologies to predict hydrologic scarcity include local monitoring of river flows, remote sensing of land-surface wetness, drought indices, expert judgment, climate indices (e.g. SST-relationships) and the application of hydrologic models. At longer lead times, predictions of drought have most frequently been made on the basis of GCM ensembles, with subsequent downscaling of those to scales over which hydrologic predictions can be made. This study focuses on two important aspects of drought. First, we explore the causal hydro-climatic timeline of a drought event, namely (a) the lack of precipitation, which serves to reduce soil moisture and produce (b) a skewed Bowen ratio, i.e. comparatively more sensible heating (warming) with less ET, resulting in (c) anomalously warm conditions. We seek to assess the extent to which the lack of precipitation contributes to warming temperatures, and the further effects of that warming on hydrology and the severity of drought impacts. An ensemble of GCM simulations will be used to explore the evolution of the land surface energy budget during a recent Great Plains drought event, which will subsequently be used to drive a hydrologic model. Second, we examine the impacts of the critical assumptions relating climatic variables with water demand, specifically the relationship between potential evapotranspiration (PET) and temperature. The common oversimplification in relating PET to temperature is explored against a more physically consistent energy balance estimate of PET, using the Penman-Monteith approach and the hydrologic impacts are presented. Results from this work are anticipated to have broad relevance for future water management and planning, to better characterize drought impacts.