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Severity–duration–frequency curves in the mitigation of drought impact: an agricultural case study

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Severity–duration–frequency (SDF) curves are very useful in the analysis of drought phenomena. Station-level information obtained from SDF curves can be interpolated to obtain severity maps for fixed return period, in order to jointly analyse the spatial variability of drought characteristics (e.g. severity, duration and frequency). This approach is limited because the severity is usually quantified through indices that use hydrological and meteorological data, depending on the type of requirements. Therefore, drought indices can only reflect hydrological conditions, but are unable to quantify economic losses associated with droughts. In other words, SDF curves do not allow effective quantification of the impact expected with a certain return period. This paper proposes the methodology drought economic risk assessment (DERA) as an approach that emphasizes the importance of the relationship between a generic drought index (which quantifies water deficit) and the economic impact of the failure to meet water demand. Using integrated SDF curves, this relationship enables drought severity and corresponding impacts to be mapped. This procedure was applied to agricultural droughts (sunflower crop) in Umbria Region (central Italy). The agricultural drought impact variable was identified by sunflower yield (Y); the economic impact variable by net benefit depletion (EL); and the drought index by Relative Severity Index (RSI), which is quantifiable by a soil–water balance model. The relationships Y = g(RSI) and EL = f(Y) were specifically determined. Using DERA, it was possible to derive curves for SDF, impact–duration–frequency, and economic losses–duration–frequency (ELDF), which were then used to map severity, impact and economic losses for the assigned return period and duration. From the ELDF curves, further information was obtained by mapping critical drought durations for the assigned return period and economic loss threshold. The case study supports the potential of the proposed approach, both in the planning and real-time management of drought effects.

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Correspondence to L. Vergni.

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Todisco, F., Mannocchi, F. & Vergni, L. Severity–duration–frequency curves in the mitigation of drought impact: an agricultural case study. Nat Hazards 65, 1863–1881 (2013).

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