Global variations in droughts and wet spells: 1900–1995

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Abstract

The Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) was calculated globally using gridded monthly air temperature and precipitation. From 1900 to 1995, there are large multi-year to decadal variations in the percentage areas in severe drought (PDSI < −3.0) and severe moisture surplus (PDSI > +3.0) over many land areas while secular trends are small. Since the late 1970s, however, there have been some increases in the combined percentage areas in severe drought and severe moisture surplus, resulting from increases in either the drought area (e.g., over the Sahel, eastern Asia and southern Africa) or both the drought and wet areas (e.g., over the U.S. and Europe). Although the high percentages of the dry and wet areas in the recent decades are not unprecedented during this century (except the Sahel), the recent changes are closely relate to the shift in El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) towards more warm events since the late 1970s and coincide with record high global mean temperatures. Moreover, for any given value of ENSO indices, the PDSI anomalies tend to be larger than would be expected from previous records. These changes are qualitatively consistent with those expected from increased green-house gases in the atmosphere.

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