Articles | Volume 17, issue 6
Research article
27 Jun 2013
Research article |  | 27 Jun 2013

The impact of climate mitigation on projections of future drought

I. H. Taylor, E. Burke, L. McColl, P. D. Falloon, G. R. Harris, and D. McNeall

Abstract. Drought is a cumulative event, often difficult to define and involving wide-reaching consequences for agriculture, ecosystems, water availability, and society. Understanding how the occurrence of drought may change in the future and which sources of uncertainty are dominant can inform appropriate decisions to guide drought impacts assessments. Our study considers both climate model uncertainty associated with future climate projections, and future emissions of greenhouse gases (future scenario uncertainty). Four drought indices (the Standardised Precipitation Index (SPI), Soil Moisture Anomaly (SMA), the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) and the Standardised Runoff Index (SRI)) are calculated for the A1B and RCP2.6 future emissions scenarios using monthly model output from a 57-member perturbed parameter ensemble of climate simulations of the HadCM3C Earth System model, for the baseline period 1961–1990, and the period 2070–2099 ("the 2080s"). We consider where there are statistically significant increases or decreases in the proportion of time spent in drought in the 2080s compared to the baseline. Despite the large range of uncertainty in drought projections for many regions, projections for some regions have a clear signal, with uncertainty associated with the magnitude of change rather than direction. For instance, a significant increase in time spent in drought is generally projected for the Amazon, Central America and South Africa whilst projections for northern India consistently show significant decreases in time spent in drought. Whilst the patterns of changes in future drought were similar between scenarios, climate mitigation, represented by the RCP2.6 scenario, tended to reduce future changes in drought. In general, climate mitigation reduced the area over which there was a significant increase in drought but had little impact on the area over which there was a significant decrease in time spent in drought.