Articles | Volume 16, issue 8
Research article
23 Aug 2012
Research article |  | 23 Aug 2012

Evolution of spatio-temporal drought characteristics: validation, projections and effect of adaptation scenarios

J.-P. Vidal, E. Martin, N. Kitova, J. Najac, and J.-M. Soubeyroux

Abstract. Drought events develop in both space and time and they are therefore best described through summary joint spatio-temporal characteristics, such as mean duration, mean affected area and total magnitude. This paper addresses the issue of future projections of such characteristics of drought events over France through three main research questions: (1) Are downscaled climate projections able to simulate spatio-temporal characteristics of meteorological and agricultural droughts in France over a present-day period? (2) How such characteristics will evolve over the 21st century? (3) How to use standardized drought indices to represent theoretical adaptation scenarios? These questions are addressed using the Isba land surface model, downscaled climate projections from the ARPEGE General Circulation Model under three emissions scenarios, as well as results from a previously performed 50-yr multilevel and multiscale drought reanalysis over France. Spatio-temporal characteristics of meteorological and agricultural drought events are computed using the Standardized Precipitation Index and the Standardized Soil Wetness Index, respectively, and for time scales of 3 and 12 months. Results first show that the distributions of joint spatio-temporal characteristics of observed events are well simulated by the downscaled hydroclimate projections over a present-day period. All spatio-temporal characteristics of drought events are then found to dramatically increase over the 21st century, with stronger changes for agricultural droughts. Two theoretical adaptation scenarios are eventually built based on hypotheses of adaptation to evolving climate and hydrological normals, either retrospective or prospective. The perceived spatio-temporal characteristics of drought events derived from these theoretical adaptation scenarios show much reduced changes, but they call for more realistic scenarios at both the catchment and national scale in order to accurately assess the combined effect of local-scale adaptation and global-scale mitigation.