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NEWS
New Satellite-Based Global Drought Severity Index Unveiled
December 27, 2017

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine and other institutions are rolling out a new satellite-based drought severity index for climate watchers worldwide.

Relying on data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment mission, the index adds terrestrial water storage (groundwater) to drought assessments, augmenting commonly used tools most often based on the amount of precipitation.


The global GRACE drought severity index for October 2010 shows such extreme events as the western Russia drought, the Amazon drought, flooding in China and La Niña-induced flooding in eastern Australia. Credit: Meng Zhao / UCI.

“Reliable information on the frequency and intensity of drought conditions is of utmost importance to climate and meteorological scientists and government officials – and to assess drought impacts on vegetation, food production and water resources,” said Isabella Velicogna, UCI professor of Earth system science and co-author of a recently published paper describing the drought severity index in the Journal of Hydrometeorology. “This new tool provides for accurate and continuous drought monitoring, which is necessary for effective water management and impact assessment.”

Velicogna and her colleagues presented their work related to the index at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting.

According to information, the data set for the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment drought severity index covers 2002 to 2014 but will be extended with the ongoing current mission and the GRACE follow-on mission scheduled to be launched in early 2018. GRACE has been shown to accurately characterize drought events over the past decade on a par with such other metrics as the Palmer drought severity index and the standardized precipitation evapotranspiration index.

“This new technique allows the climate community to draw a more thorough picture of the impact of drought in any corner of the world,” Velicogna said. “In the past, we had a way of assessing meteorological drought by keeping tabs on precipitation and surface water. With GRACE-DSI, we have the ability to better characterize hydrological drought, which factors in all the water in the system.”


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