Articles | Volume 15, issue 9
Research article
15 Sep 2011
Research article |  | 15 Sep 2011

Reconstructing and analyzing China's fifty-nine year (1951–2009) drought history using hydrological model simulation

Z. Y. Wu, G. H. Lu, L. Wen, and C. A. Lin

Abstract. The 1951–2009 drought history of China is reconstructed using daily soil moisture values generated by the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) land surface macroscale hydrology model. VIC is applied over a grid of 10 458 points with a spatial resolution of 30 km × 30 km, and is driven by observed daily maximum and minimum air temperature and precipitation from 624 long-term meteorological stations. The VIC soil moisture is used to calculate the Soil Moisture Anomaly Percentage Index (SMAPI), which can be used as a measure of the severity of agricultural drought on a global basis. We have developed a SMAPI-based drought identification procedure for practical uses in the identification of both grid point and regional drought events. As a result, a total of 325 regional drought events varying in time and strength are identified from China's nine drought study regions. These drought events can thus be assessed quantitatively at different spatial and temporal scales. The result shows that the severe drought events of 1978, 2000 and 2006 are well reconstructed, which indicates that the SMAPI is capable of identifying the onset of a drought event, its progression, as well as its termination. Spatial and temporal variations of droughts in China's nine drought study regions are studied. Our result shows that on average, up to 30% of the total area of China is prone to drought. Regionally, an upward trend in drought-affected areas has been detected in three regions (Inner Mongolia, Northeast and North) from 1951–2009. However, the decadal variability of droughts has been weak in the rest of the five regions (South, Southwest, East, Northwest, and Tibet). Xinjiang has even been showing steadily wetter since the 1950s. Two regional dry centres are discovered in China as the result of a combined analysis on the occurrence of drought events from both grid points and drought study regions. The first centre is located in the area partially covered by the North and the Northwest, which extends to the southeastern portion of Inner Mongolia and the southwest part of Northeast. The second one is found on the central to southern portion of the South. Our study demonstrates the applicability and the value of using modeled soil moisture for reconstructing drought histories, and the SMAPI is useful for analyzing drought at different spatial and temporal scales.