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Understanding historical and future drought evolution and propagation across California


On average, droughts cause economic damage on the order of billions of dollars annually in the United States. While droughts have been extensively studied, large knowledge gaps exist in the current understanding of how a drought propagates or evolves through the water cycle. The aim of this project is to address these gaps by characterizing the linkages between different types of droughts using historical data and future projections.


Laurie Huning
Assistant Professor, Civil Engineering and Construction Engineering Management
California State University, Long Beach

Project description:

Drought is a devastating natural hazard that can cause significant damage (social, economic, and ecological) around the globe, yet it is not completely understood. Since drought is not uncommon across California and it critically impacts the state’s water resources, drought warrants further study in the state.

Although previous studies have investigated drought, questions remain about how drought propagates through different components of the hydrologic cycle (e.g., snow, streamflow, and soil moisture). This is especially the case when snow is involved. The project therefore aims to characterize the linkages between different types of droughts – for example, snow droughts, hydrological droughts, and agricultural droughts – and their characteristics (e.g., severity) using historical data and future projections. The overarching objective of this project is to study how the occurrence, severity, and timing of one type of drought may impact another as these relationships vary in space and time across California. Multivariate analysis will facilitate an improved understanding of relationships among snow, streamflow, and soil moisture.

Insight into these linkages in both historical and future contexts is critical for further improving drought monitoring frameworks and mitigating drought effects across a number of sectors including water resources management, agriculture, and hydropower. Findings from this project will be important for developing climate resilience and managing water resources across California, especially as snow is a vital freshwater source for the state and it is sensitive to warming.