Journal cover Journal topic
Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
doi:10.5194/hess-2017-220
© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed
under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
19 Apr 2017
Review status
This discussion paper is under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS).
Searching for the optimal drought index and time scale combination to detect drought: a case study from the lower Jinsha River Basin, China
Javier Fluixá-Sanmartín1, Deng Pan2, Luzia Fischer3, Boris Orlowsky4, Javier García-Hernández1, Frédéric Jordan5, Christoph Haemmig3, Fangwei Zhang6, and Jijun Xu2 1Centre de Recherche sur l’Environnement Alpin (CREALP), Sion, 1951, Switzerland
2Changjiang River Scientific Research Institute, Changjiang Water Resources Commission, Wuhan Hubei, 430010, China
3GEOTEST AG, Zollikofen, 3052, Switzerland
4Climate-babel, Zurich, 8047, Switzerland
5Hydrique Ingénieurs, Le Mont-sur-Lausanne, 1052, Switzerland
6Bureau of Hydrology, Changjiang Water Resources Commission, Wuhan Hubei, 430017, China
Abstract. Drought indices based on precipitation are commonly used to identify and characterize droughts. Due to the general complexity of droughts, comparison of index-identified events with droughts rely typically on model simulations of the complete hydrological system (e.g., soil humidity or river discharges), entailing potentially significant uncertainties.

The present study explores the potential of using precipitation based indices to reproduce observed droughts in the lower part of the Jinsha River Basin, proposing an innovative approach for a catchment-wide drought detection and characterization. Two new indicators, namely the Overall Drought Extension (ODE) and the Overall Drought Intensity (ODI), have been developed. These indicators aim at identifying and characterizing drought events at basin scale, using results from four meteorological drought indices (Standardized Precipitation Index, SPI; Rainfall Anomaly Index, RAI; Percent of Normal precipitation, PN; Deciles, DEC) calculated at different locations of the basin and for different time scales. Collected historical information on drought events is used to contrast results obtained with the indicators.

This method has been successfully applied to the lower Jinsha River Basin, in China, a region prone to frequent and severe droughts. Historical drought events occurred from 1960 to 2014 have been compiled and catalogued from different sources, in a challenging process. The analysis of the newly developed indicators shows a good agreement with the recorded historical drought at basin scale. It has been found that the combinations of index and time scale that best reproduces observed events are the SPI-12 and PN-12 for long droughts (1 year or more) and the RAI-6, PN-6 and DEC-6 for shorter or more consecutive events.


Citation: Fluixá-Sanmartín, J., Pan, D., Fischer, L., Orlowsky, B., García-Hernández, J., Jordan, F., Haemmig, C., Zhang, F., and Xu, J.: Searching for the optimal drought index and time scale combination to detect drought: a case study from the lower Jinsha River Basin, China, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. Discuss., doi:10.5194/hess-2017-220, in review, 2017.
Javier Fluixá-Sanmartín et al.
Javier Fluixá-Sanmartín et al.
Javier Fluixá-Sanmartín et al.

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Short summary
In China, droughts represent a severe threat for socioeconomic development and ecosystems. It is thus necessary to characterize these events in order to reduce and anticipate their impacts. This study proposes an innovative approach for a catchment-wide drought detection and characterization. Two new overall drought indicators have been defined and calibrated with real historical events, which have been collected and catalogued.
In China, droughts represent a severe threat for socioeconomic development and ecosystems. It is...
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