Publication details

Global hotspots in soil moisture-based drought trends



Year of publication 2024
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source Environmental Research Letters
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Science

Keywords soil drought; soil moisture; SoilClim model; ERA5-land reanalysis; spatiotemporal variability; climate change
Description Decreasing soil moisture and increasing frequency and intensity of soil drought episodes are among the frequently discussed consequences of ongoing global climate change. To address this topic, a water balance model SoilClim forced by climate reanalysis ERA5-Land was applied on a global scale to analyze the spatiotemporal variability of changes in soil moisture anomalies. The results revealed that the soil relative available water (AWR) significantly decreased on 31.1% of global non-glaciated land and significantly increased on 5.3% of such global non-glaciated land in 1981–2021. Decreasing AWR trends were detected over all continents and were particularly pronounced in South America, which experienced significant drying on more than half of the continent. The main drought 'hotspots' were identified in equatorial Africa, a large part of South America, the Midwest United States, and in a belt extending from eastern Europe to eastern Asia. A seasonal analysis of region-specific patterns further suggested drying in Europe in summer but an absence of a drying trend in winter. These results were supported by an analysis of the area affected by percentile-based drought on individual continents, revealing statistically significant increasing trends of 5th- and 10th-percentile droughts on all continents except Australia at an annual scale. Nevertheless, summer and autumn drought frequency increases were also detected in Australia. The seasonal trends were the most rapid in South America and Europe (except in winter). The distributions of AWR values, evaluated by Z scores, shifted remarkably toward drier conditions during the 2001–2021 period, particularly in South America and Asia. These results underscore the alarming increase in soil drought on a global scale, highlighting the need for effective drought management strategies.
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