Comparison of drought indices in the analysis of spatial and temporal changes of climatic drought events in a basin


The standardized precipitation index (SPI) and the standardized precipitation evapotranspiration index (SPEI) based on two different methods were calculated using monthly meteorological data from the Yangtze River Basin. According to the completeness and length of dataset, the monthly data of 35 meteorological stations from 1959 to 2017 were applied in this study. The results revealed that the SPEI calculated by the Penman-Monteith (PM) method performed better than the SPI and the SPEI based on the Thornthwaite (TH) method. Since SPEI_PM considered more meteorological factors and detailed physical processes, it obtained the most reasonable and accurate results of drought trends. Using the variations of SPEI_PM to analyze the decadal changes of drought characteristics in the basin, it could be found that 1980–1989 and 1990–1999 were the most humid periods in the basin, while the drought events became more frequent and severe in the recent decade. The spatial distributions of drought trend, duration and frequency indicated that the stations located in the midstream of the river were most prone to drought events, followed by the upper reaches. Our results provided more information for the regions where severe droughts occurred frequently and last longer, and more attention should be paid to these regions in future catchment management.

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The authors express their thanks to the National Climate Centre of China Meteorological Administration (CMA). Comments and suggestions from two anonymous reviewers and the editor are greatly appreciated.


This work is supported by the Science & Technology Development Fund of Tianjin Education Commission for Higher Education (2017KJ125).

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Correspondence to Zhong-Liang Wang.

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Li, X., Sha, J. & Wang, Z. Comparison of drought indices in the analysis of spatial and temporal changes of climatic drought events in a basin. Environ Sci Pollut Res 26, 10695–10707 (2019).

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  • Drought analysis
  • Standardized precipitation index
  • Standardized precipitation evapotranspiration index
  • Yangtze River Basin