Climatic Change

, Volume 156, Issue 3, pp 323–340 | Cite as

National-scale analysis of future river flow and soil moisture droughts: potential changes in drought characteristics

  • Alison C. RuddEmail author
  • A. L. Kay
  • V. A. Bell


The potential impact of climate change on drought is of increasing concern, especially due to recent occurrences of major events across the globe. Here a national-scale grid–based hydrological model is used to investigate potential future changes in river flow and soil moisture droughts across Great Britain. The analysis uses ensembles of climate model data for four time periods (1930s, 1980s, 2030s and 2080s) under a “business-as-usual” (RCP8.5) emissions trajectory. The results show that the severity of droughts is projected to increase in the future. River flow droughts in southeastern regions are projected to increase in peak intensity and lengthen slightly, whereas peak intensities are projected to decrease for much of the rest of Britain. Droughts with the largest spatial extent across Britain are projected to increase in area for both river flow and soil moisture. More extreme droughts than previously experienced could have a significant impact on the aquatic environment as well as the availability of water for industry, agriculture and public water supply. Regional- to national-scale droughts could have implications for potential mitigation measures such as water transfer between regions. In turn, this could lead to social and economic impacts, especially as there are also likely to be future increases in demand.


Drought Great Britain Hydrology Low flow River flow Soil moisture 



This study is an outcome of MaRIUS (Managing the Risks, Impacts and Uncertainties of droughts and water Scarcity). The authors would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their comments, which have helped to greatly improve this manuscript.

Funding Information

Financial support was provided by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NE/L010208/1) as part of the UK Drought and Water Scarcity programme.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10584_2019_2528_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (3.8 mb)
ESM 1 (PDF 3.80 mb)


  1. Ahmadalipour A, Moradkhani H, Demirel MC (2017) A comparative assessment of projected meteorological and hydrological droughts: elucidating the role of temperature. J Hydrol 553:785–797CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bell VA, Kay AL et al (2007) Development of a high resolution grid-based river flow model for use with regional climate model output. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 11(1):532–549CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bell VA, Kay AL et al (2009) Use of soil data in a grid-based hydrological model to estimate spatial variation in changing flood risk across the UK. J Hydrol 377(3–4):335–350CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bell VA, Kay AL et al (2012) How might climate change affect river flows across the Thames Basin? An area-wide analysis using the UKCP09 regional climate model ensemble. J Hydrol 442–443:89–104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bell VA, Kay AL et al (2016) An assessment of the possible impacts of climate change on snow and peak river flows across Britain. Clim Chang 136(3):539–553CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bell VA, Rudd AC et al (2018a) Grid-to-Grid model estimates of monthly mean flow and soil moisture for Great Britain: weather@home2 (climate model) driving data [MaRIUS-G2G-WAH2-monthly]. NERC Environmental Information Data Centre
  7. Bell VA, Kay AL et al (2018b) The MaRIUS-G2G datasets: Grid-to-Grid model estimates of flow and soil moisture for Great Britain using observed and climate model driving data. Geosci Data J.
  8. Blenkinsop S, Fowler HJ (2007) Changes in drought frequency, severity and duration for the British Isles projected by the PRUDENCE regional climate models. J Hydrol 342:50–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Burke EJ, Perry RHJ, Brown SJ (2010) An extreme value analysis of UK drought and projections of change in the future. J Hydrol 388:131–143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cabinet Office (2017) National Risk Register Of Civil Emergencies, 2017 edition. Available at Accessed Feb 2018
  11. Cole SJ, Moore RJ (2009) Distributed hydrological modelling using weather radar in gauged and ungauged basins. Adv Water Res 32(7):1107–1120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Collet L, Harrigan S, Prudhomme C, Formetta G, Beevers L (2018) Future hot-spots for hydro-hazards in Great Britain: a probabilistic assessment. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 22:5387–5401CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cook BI, Smerdon JE, Seager R, Coats S (2014) Global warming and 21st century drying. Clim Dyn 1–21Google Scholar
  14. Dai A (2013) Increasing drought under global warming in observations and models. Nat Clim Chang 3:52–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Damberg L, AghaKouchak A (2014) Global trends and patters of drought from space. Theor Appl Climatol 117:441–448CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Environment Agency (2013) Managing drought in the North West. Available at Accessed Feb 2018
  17. Fowler HJ, Kilsby CG (2004) Future increases in UK water resource drought projected by a regional climate model. Proceedings of the BHS International Conference on Hydrology: Science & Practice for the 21st Century, London, 12-16 July 2004Google Scholar
  18. Griffin D, Anchukaitis KJ (2014) How unusual is the 2012-2014 California drought? Geophys Res Lett 41:9017–9023CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gu L, Chen J et al (2019) The contribution of internal climate variability to climate change impacts on droughts. Sci Total Environ.
  20. Guillod BP, Jones RG et al (2017a) weather@home 2: validation of an improved global-regional climate modelling system. Geosci Model Dev 10:1849–1872CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Guillod BP, Jones RG et al (2017b) Managing the Risks, Impacts and Uncertainties of drought and water Scarcity (MaRIUS) project: large set of potential past and future climate time series for the UK from the weather@home2 model. Centre for Environmental Data Analysis.
  22. Guillod BP, Jones RG et al (2018) A large set of potential past, present and future hydro-meteorological time series for the UK. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 22(1):611–634CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hannaford (2015) Climate-driven changes in UK river flows: a review of the evidence. Prog Phys Geogr 39(1):29–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hisdal H, Tallaksen LM et al (2004) Hydrological drought characteristics, in: Hydrological drought: processes and estimation method for streamflow and groundwater. pp 139–198Google Scholar
  25. Hough M, Jones RJA (1997) The United Kingdom Meteorological Office rainfall and evaporation calculation system: MORECS version 2.0– an overview. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 1(2):227–239CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kay AL (2016) A review of snow in Britain: the historical picture and future projections. Prog Phys Geogr 40(5):676–698CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kay AL, Bell VA et al (2018) National-scale analysis of low flow frequency: historical trends and potential future changes. Clim Chang.
  28. Kendon M, Marsh T, Parry S (2013) The 2010–2012 drought in England and Wales. Weather 68(4):88–95CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Marx A, Kumar R et al (2018) Climate change alters low flows in Europe under global warming of 1.5, 2, and 3°C. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 22(2):1017–1032CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Massey N, Jones R et al (2015) weather@home – development and validation of a very large ensemble modelling system for probabilistic event attribution. Quart J Roy Meteor Soc 141:1528–1545CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Maxey R, Cranston M et al (2012) The use of deterministic and probabilistic forecasting in countrywide flood guidance in Scotland, in: BHS eleventh National Symposium, hydrology for a changing world, pp 01–07Google Scholar
  32. Mishra V, Shah R, Thrasher B (2014) Soil moisture droughts under the retrospective and projected climate in India. J Hydrometeorol 15:2267–2292CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Monteith JL (1965) Evaporation and environment. Symp Soc Exp Biol 19:205–234Google Scholar
  34. Muller M (2017) Understanding Cape Town’s Water Crisis. Civil Engineering, June 2017. Available at SSRN: Accessed Feb 2018
  35. Murphy JM, Sexton DMH et al (2009) UK climate projections science report: climate change projections, Tech. rep. Met Office Hadley Centre, ExeterGoogle Scholar
  36. NHP, 2013. Drought, Natural Hazards Partnership Science Note: 2013Google Scholar
  37. Nicholson S (2014) A detailed look at the recent drought situation in the greater horn of Africa. J Arid Environ 103:71–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Oosterwijk J, Van Loon AF et al (2009) Hydrological drought characteristics of the Nedožery sub catchment, upper Nitra, Slovakia, based on HBV modelling. WATCH technical report no. 20. Accessed Feb 2018
  39. Orlowsky B, Seneviratne SI (2013) Elusive drought: uncertainty in observed trends and short-and long-term CMIP5 projections. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 17:1765–1781CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Parry S, Marsh T, Kendon M (2013) 2012: from droughts to floods in England and Wales. Weather 68(10):268–274CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Price D, Hudson K et al (2012) Operational use of a grid-based model for flood forecasting. In: Proceedings of the ICE, Water Management, pp 65–77Google Scholar
  42. Rahiz M, New M (2013) 21st century drought scenarios for the UK. Water Resour Manag 27:1039–1061CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Rhee J, Cho J (2016) Future changes in drought characteristics: regional analysis for South Korea under CMIP5 projections. J Hydrometeorol 17:437–451CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Riahi K, Rao S et al (2011) RCP 8.5—a scenario of comparatively high greenhouse gas emissions. Clim Chang 109:33–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Roudier P, Andersson JCM et al (2016) Projections of future floods and hydrological droughts in Europe under a +2°C global warming. Clim Chang 135:341–355CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Rudd AC, Kay AL (2016) Use of very high resolution climate model data for hydrological modelling: estimation of potential evaporation. Hydrol Res 47(3):660–670Google Scholar
  47. Rudd AC, Bell VA, Kay AL (2017) National-scale analysis of simulated hydrological droughts (1891–2015). J Hydrol 550:368–385CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Samaniego L, Thober S et al (2018) Anthropogenic warming exacerbates European soil moisture droughts. Nat Clim Chang 8:421–426CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Sheffield J, Wood EF (2008) Projected changes in drought occurrence under future global warming from multi-model, multi-scenario, IPCC AR4 simulations. Clim Dyn 31:79–105CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Sheffield J, Wood EF, Roderick M (2012) Little change in global drought over the past 60 years. Nature 491:435–438CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Taylor KE, Stouffer RJ, Meehl GA (2012) An overview of CMIP5 and the experiment design. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 93:485–498CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Touma D, Ashfaq M, Nayak MA, Kao S-C, Diffenbaugh NS (2015) A multi-model and multi-index evaluation of drought characteristics in the 21st century. J Hydrol 526:196–207CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Trenberth KE, Dai A et al (2014) Global warming and changes in drought. Nat Clim Chang 4:17–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. TWUL (2013) Thames Water Utilities Ltd MARCH 2013 FINAL DRAFT DROUGHT PLAN, APPENDIX F. Drought Management Protocols for London and SWOX with worked examples. Accessed Feb 2018
  55. TWUL (2017) Thames Water Utilities Ltd Reports - published technical reports and documents which have been produced to inform their Water Resource Management Plan 2019. Accessed Feb 2018
  56. Van Dijk AIJM, Beck HE et al (2013) The millennium drought in Southeast Australia (2001-2009): natural and human causes and implications for water resources, ecosystems, economy, and society. Water Resour Res 49:1040–1057CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Van Huijgevoort MHJ, van Lanen HAJ et al (2014) Identification of changes in hydrological drought characteristics from a multi-GCM driven ensemble constrained by observed discharge. J Hydrol 512:421–434CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Van Lanen HAJ, Laaha G et al (2016) Hydrology needed to manage droughts: the 2015 European case. Hydrol Process 30:3097–3104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Van Loon AF (2015) Hydrological drought explained. WIREs Water 2:359–392CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Van Loon AF, Van Lanen HAJ (2012) A process-based typology of hydrological drought. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 16:1915–1946CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Van Loon AF, Ploum SW et al (2015) Hydrological drought types in cold climates: quantitative analysis of causing factors and qualitative survey of impacts. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 19:1993–2016CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Vidal J-P, Wade S (2009) A multimodel assessment of future climatological droughts in the United Kingdom. Int J Climatol 29:2056–2071CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Vrochidou AEK, Tsanis IK et al (2013) The impact of climate change on hydrometeorological droughts at a basin scale. J Hydrol 476:290–301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Wanders N, Wada Y, Van Lanen HAJ (2015) Global hydrological droughts in the 21st century under a changing hydrological regime. Earth Syst Dynam 6:1–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. WaterUK (2016) Water resources long term planning framework (2015–2065) Technical Report. Accessed Feb 2018
  66. Wilhite DA (2000) In: Donald W (ed) chap 1Drought as a natural Hazard: concepts and definitions, vol 1. A Global Assessment, Drought, pp 3–18Google Scholar
  67. Wong WK, Beldring S et al (2011) Climate change effects on spatiotemporal patterns of hydroclimatological summer droughts in Norway. J Hydrometeorol 12:1205–1220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Yevjevich V (1967) An objective approach to definitions and investigations of continental hydrologic droughts. Hydrol Pap 23Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Ecology & HydrologyWallingfordUK

Personalised recommendations