Climatic Change

, Volume 114, Issue 2, pp 379–397 | Cite as

Drought in the Southern United States over the 20th century: variability and its impacts on terrestrial ecosystem productivity and carbon storage

  • Guangsheng Chen
  • Hanqin Tian
  • Chi Zhang
  • Mingliang Liu
  • Wei Ren
  • Wenquan Zhu
  • Arthur H. Chappelka
  • Stephen A. Prior
  • Graeme B. Lockaby


Drought is one of the most devastating natural hazards faced by the Southern United States (SUS). Drought events and their adverse impacts on the economy, society and environment have been extensively reported during 1895–2007. Our aim is thus to characterize drought conditions in the SUS and explore the impacts on terrestrial ecosystem function (i.e., net primary productivity (NPP) and net carbon exchange (NCE)). Standard precipitation index (SPI) was used to characterize drought intensity and duration, and a process-based ecosystem model was used to explore the relationship between drought and ecosystem function. Combining overall information on growing-season SPI, drought area and duration, we concluded there was no significant change in drought conditions for the SUS during 1895–2007. However, increased drought intensity was found for many areas in the east, resulting in significant decreases in NPP for these areas, with the largest decrease up to 40% during extreme droughts. Changes in precipitation patterns increased C emissions of 0.16 Pg (1 Pg = 1015 g) in the SUS during 1895–2007. The west (dry region) acted as a C sink due to increased precipitation, while the east (water-rich region) acted as a C source due to increased drought intensity. Both NPP and NCE significantly increased along a gradient of declining drought intensity. Changes in precipitation resulted in C sources in forest, wetland, and cropland ecosystems, while C sinks in shrubland and grassland ecosystems. Changes in air temperature could either enhance or reduce drought impacts on NPP and NCE across different vegetation types.

Supplementary material

10584_2012_410_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (470 kb)
ESM 1(PDF 470 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Guangsheng Chen
    • 1
  • Hanqin Tian
    • 1
  • Chi Zhang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Mingliang Liu
    • 1
  • Wei Ren
    • 1
  • Wenquan Zhu
    • 3
  • Arthur H. Chappelka
    • 1
  • Stephen A. Prior
    • 4
  • Graeme B. Lockaby
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Forestry and Wildlife SciencesAuburn UniversityAuburnUSA
  2. 2.Global Institute of SustainabilityArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  3. 3.State Key Laboratory of Earth Surface Processes and Resource Ecology, College of Resources Science and TechnologyBeijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina
  4. 4.USDA-ARS National Soil Dynamics LaboratoryAuburnUSA

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