Climatic Change

, Volume 139, Issue 1, pp 37–54 | Cite as

Natural hazards in Australia: droughts

  • Anthony S. KiemEmail author
  • Fiona Johnson
  • Seth Westra
  • Albert van Dijk
  • Jason P. Evans
  • Alison O’Donnell
  • Alexandra Rouillard
  • Cameron Barr
  • Jonathan Tyler
  • Mark Thyer
  • Doerte Jakob
  • Fitsum Woldemeskel
  • Bellie Sivakumar
  • Raj Mehrotra


Droughts are a recurrent and natural part of the Australian hydroclimate, with evidence of drought dating back thousands of years. However, our ability to monitor, attribute, forecast and manage drought is exposed as insufficient whenever a drought occurs. This paper summarises what is known about drought hazard, as opposed to the impacts of drought, in Australia and finds that, unlike other hydroclimatic hazards, we currently have very limited ability to tell when a drought will begin or end. Understanding, defining, monitoring, forecasting and managing drought is also complex due to the variety of temporal and spatial scales at which drought occurs and the diverse direct and indirect causes and consequences of drought. We argue that to improve understanding and management of drought, three key research challenges should be targeted: (1) defining and monitoring drought characteristics (i.e. frequency, start, duration, magnitude, and spatial extent) to remove confusion between drought causes, impacts and risks and better distinguish between drought, aridity, and water scarcity due to over-extractions; (2) documenting historical (instrumental and pre-instrumental) variation in drought to better understand baseline drought characteristics, enable more rigorous identification and attribution of drought events or trends, inform/evaluate hydrological and climate modelling activities and give insights into possible future drought scenarios; (3) improving the prediction and projection of drought characteristics with seasonal to multidecadal lead times and including more realistic modelling of the multiple factors that cause (or contribute to) drought so that the impacts of natural variability and anthropogenic climate change are accounted for and the reliability of long-term drought projections increases.


Drought Attribution Climate variability Climate change, palaeoclimate Water resources Hydrology 



This paper was a result of collaboration through the working group ‘Trends and Extremes’ as part of the Australian Water and Energy Exchanges Initiative (OzEWEX, J. Evans was supported through Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellowship FT110100576. A. van Dijk was supported through ARC Discovery Project DP40103679. S. Westra and F. Johnson were supported through ARC Discovery Project DP150100411. J. Tyler was supported through ARC Discovery Project DP140104093. C. Barr was supported by ARC Discovery Project DP150103875. B. Sivakumar was supported through ARC Future Fellowship FT110100328.

Supplementary material

10584_2016_1798_MOESM1_ESM.docx (44 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 43.8 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anthony S. Kiem
    • 1
    Email author
  • Fiona Johnson
    • 2
  • Seth Westra
    • 3
  • Albert van Dijk
    • 4
  • Jason P. Evans
    • 5
  • Alison O’Donnell
    • 6
  • Alexandra Rouillard
    • 6
  • Cameron Barr
    • 7
  • Jonathan Tyler
    • 8
    • 9
  • Mark Thyer
    • 3
  • Doerte Jakob
    • 10
  • Fitsum Woldemeskel
    • 2
  • Bellie Sivakumar
    • 2
    • 11
  • Raj Mehrotra
    • 2
  1. 1.Centre for Water, Climate and Land (CWCL), Faculty of Science and ITUniversity of NewcastleCallaghanAustralia
  2. 2.School of Civil and Environmental EngineeringUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  3. 3.School of Civil, Environmental and Mining EngineeringUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  4. 4.Fenner School of Environment & SocietyAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  5. 5.Climate Change Research Centre and ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System ScienceUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  6. 6.School of Plant BiologyUniversity of Western AustraliaPerthAustralia
  7. 7.Department of Geography, Environment and PopulationUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  8. 8.Department of Earth SciencesUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  9. 9.Sprigg Geobiology CentreUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  10. 10.Environment and ResearchBureau of MeteorologyMelbourneAustralia
  11. 11.Department of Land, Air and Water ResourcesUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA

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