Climatic Change

, Volume 144, Issue 3, pp 535–548 | Cite as

Uncertainties in historical changes and future projections of drought. Part II: model-simulated historical and future drought changes

  • Tianbao ZhaoEmail author
  • Aiguo DaiEmail author


While most models project large increases in agricultural drought frequency and severity in the 21st century, significant uncertainties exist in these projections. Here, we compare the model-simulated changes with observation-based estimates since 1900 and examine model projections from both the Coupled Model Inter-comparison Project Phase 3 (CMIP3) and Phase 5 (CMIP5). We use the self-calibrated Palmer Drought Severity Index with the Penman-Monteith potential evapotranspiration (PET) (sc_PDSI_pm) as a measure of agricultural drought. Results show that estimated long-term changes in global and hemispheric drought areas from 1900 to 2014 are consistent with the CMIP3 and CMIP5 model-simulated response to historical greenhouse gases and other external forcing, with the short-term variations within the model spread of internal variability, despite that regional changes are still dominated by internal variability. Both the CMIP3 and CMIP5 models project continued increases (by 50–200 % in a relative sense) in the 21st century in global agricultural drought frequency and area even under low-moderate emissions scenarios, resulting from a decrease in the mean and flattening of the probability distribution functions (PDFs) of the sc_PDSI_pm. This flattening is especially pronounced over the Northern Hemisphere land, leading to increased drought frequency even over areas with increasing sc_PDSI_pm. Large differences exist in the CMIP3 and CMIP5 model-projected precipitation and drought changes over the Sahel and northern Australia due to uncertainties in simulating the African Inter-tropical convergence zone (ITCZ) and the subsidence zone over northern Australia, while the wetting trend over East Africa reflects a robust response of the Indian Ocean ITCZ seen in both the CMIP3 and CMIP5 models. While warming-induced PET increases over all latitudes and precipitation decreases over subtropical land are responsible for mean sc_PDSI_pm decreases, the exact cause of its PDF flattening needs further investigation.


Palmer Drought Severity Index CMIP5 Model Drought Frequency Agricultural Drought Internal Climate Variability 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This study was supported by the National Key Basic Research Program of China (Grant No.2012CB956203), U.S. National Science Foundation (Grant #AGS-1353740), U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science (Award #DE-SC0012602), and U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Award #NA15OAR4310086).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Regional Climate-Environment Research for East AsiaInstitute of Atmospheric Physics (IAP), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS)BeijingChina
  2. 2.Department of Atmospheric and Environmental SciencesUniversity at Albany, SUNYAlbanyUSA
  3. 3.National Center for Atmospheric ResearchBoulderUSA

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