Comparing Palmer Drought Severity Index drought assessments using the traditional offline approach with direct climate model outputs

Yuting Yang*, Shulei Zhang, Michael L. Roderick, Tim R. McVicar, Dawen Yang, Wenbin Liu, Xiaoyan Li

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    54 Citations (Scopus)


    Anthropogenic warming has been projected to increase global drought for the 21st century when calculated using traditional offline drought indices. However, this contradicts observations of the overall global greening and little systematic change in runoff over the past few decades and climate projections of future greening with slight increases in global runoff for the coming century. This calls into question the drought projections based on traditional offline drought indices. Here we calculate a widely used traditional drought index (i.e., the Palmer Drought Severity Index, PDSI) using direct outputs from 16 Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) models (PDSI_CMIP5) such that the hydrologic consistency between PDSI_CMIP5 and CMIP5 models is maintained. We find that the PDSI_CMIP5-depicted drought increases (in terms of drought severity, frequency, and extent) are much smaller than that reported when PDSI is calculated using the traditional offline approach that has been widely used in previous drought assessments under climate change. Further analyses indicate that the overestimation of PDSI drought increases reported previously using the PDSI is primarily due to ignoring the vegetation response to elevated atmospheric <span classCombining double low line"inline-formula">CO2</span> concentration ([<span classCombining double low line"inline-formula">CO2</span>]) in the traditional offline calculations. Finally, we show that the overestimation of drought using the traditional PDSI approach can be minimized by accounting for the effect of <span classCombining double low line"inline-formula">CO2</span> on evapotranspiration.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2921-2930
    Number of pages10
    JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2020


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