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Keywords:

  • drought;
  • soil moisture;
  • climate model;
  • climate change;
  • SPI;
  • HiGEM

Abstract

We compare the characteristics of synthetic European droughts generated by the HiGEM1 coupled climate model run with present day atmospheric composition with observed drought events extracted from the CRU TS3 data set. The results demonstrate consistency in both the rate of drought occurrence and the spatiotemporal structure of the events. Estimates of the probability density functions for event area, duration and severity are shown to be similar with confidence > 90%. Encouragingly, HiGEM is shown to replicate the extreme tails of the observed distributions and thus the most damaging European drought events. The soil moisture state is shown to play an important role in drought development. Once a large-scale drought has been initiated it is found to be 50% more likely to continue if the local soil moisture is below the 40th percentile . In response to increased concentrations of atmospheric CO2, the modelled droughts are found to increase in duration, area and severity. The drought response can be largely attributed to temperature driven changes in relative humidity. Copyright © 2012 Royal Meteorological Society