Effects of different reference periods on drought index (SPEI) estimations from 1901 to 2014
Abstract. This study aims to understand how different reference periods (i.e., calibration periods) of climate data used to estimate drought indices influence regional drought assessments. Specifically, we investigate the influences of different reference periods on historical drought characteristics, such as the trend, frequency, intensity and spatial extent, using the standardized precipitation evapotranspiration index (SPEI) with a 12-month lag (SPEI-12), which was estimated from the datasets of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) and the University of Delaware (UDEL). For the 1901–1957 (P1) and 1958–2014 (P2) estimation periods, three different types of reference periods are used to compute the SPEI: P1 and P2 together, P1 and P2 separately and P1 only. Focusing on East Asia, Europe, the United States and West Africa, we find that the influence of the reference period is significant in East Asia and West Africa, with dominant drying trends from P1 to P2. The reference period influenced the assessment of drought characteristics, particularly the severity and spatial extent, whereas the influence on the frequency was relatively small. Finally, self-calibration, which is the most common practice for indices such as the SPEI, tends to underestimate the drought severity and spatial extent relative to the other approaches used in this study. Although the conclusions drawn in this study are limited by the use of two global datasets, they highlight the need for clarification of the reference period in drought assessments to better understand regional drought characteristics and the associated temporal changes, particularly under climate change scenarios.