Drought in a human-modified world: Reframing drought definitions, understanding, and analysis approaches

Anne F. Van Loon*, Kerstin Stahl, Giuliano Di Baldassarre, Julian Clark, Sally Rangecroft, Niko Wanders, Tom Gleeson, Albert I J M Van Dijk, Lena M. Tallaksen, Jamie Hannaford, Remko Uijlenhoet, Adriaan J. Teuling, David M. Hannah, Justin Sheffield, Mark Svoboda, Boud Verbeiren, Thorsten Wagener, Henny A J Van Lanen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

143 Citations (Scopus)
466 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

In the current human-modified world, or Anthropocene, the state of water stores and fluxes has become dependent on human as well as natural processes. Water deficits (or droughts) are the result of a complex interaction between meteorological anomalies, land surface processes, and human inflows, outflows, and storage changes. Our current inability to adequately analyse and manage drought in many places points to gaps in our understanding and to inadequate data and tools. The Anthropocene requires a new framework for drought definitions and research. Drought definitions need to be revisited to explicitly include human processes driving and modifying soil moisture drought and hydrological drought development. We give recommendations for robust drought definitions to clarify timescales of drought and prevent confusion with related terms such as water scarcity and overexploitation. Additionally, our understanding and analysis of drought need to move from single driver to multiple drivers and from uni-directional to multi-directional. We identify research gaps and propose analysis approaches on (1) drivers, (2) modifiers, (3) impacts, (4) feedbacks, and (5) changing the baseline of drought in the Anthropocene. The most pressing research questions are related to the attribution of drought to its causes, to linking drought impacts to drought characteristics, and to societal adaptation and responses to drought. Example questions include i) What are the dominant drivers of drought in different parts of the world? (ii) How do human modifications of drought enhance or alleviate drought severity? (iii) How do impacts of drought depend on the physical characteristics of drought vs. the vulnerability of people or the environment? (iv) To what extent are physical and human drought processes coupled, and can feedback loops be identified and altered to lessen or mitigate drought? (v) How should we adapt our drought analysis to accommodate changes in the normal situation (i.e. what are considered normal or reference conditions) over time? Answering these questions requires exploration of qualitative and quantitative data as well as mixed modelling approaches. The challenges related to drought research and management in the Anthropocene are not unique to drought, but do require urgent attention. We give recommendations drawn from the fields of flood research, ecology, water management, and water resources studies. The framework presented here provides a holistic view on drought in the Anthropocene, which will help improve management strategies for mitigating the severity and reducing the impacts of droughts in future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3631-3650
Number of pages20
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Volume20
Issue number9
Early online date8 Sep 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2016

Bibliographical note

Special issue: Panta Rhei: opinions and progress towards hydrology for a changing world

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