Articles | Volume 12, issue 11
Research article
29 Nov 2012
Research article |  | 29 Nov 2012

Development of a Combined Drought Indicator to detect agricultural drought in Europe

G. Sepulcre-Canto, S. Horion, A. Singleton, H. Carrao, and J. Vogt

Abstract. This study proposes a drought indicator that combines the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI), the anomalies of soil moisture and the anomalies of the fraction of Absorbed Photosynthetically Active Radiation (fAPAR). Computed at the European level, the Combined Drought Indicator (CDI) gives a synthetic and synoptic overview of the drought situation using a classification scheme. Derived from the integration of the three individual indices, this classification scheme is composed of three warning levels: "watch" when a relevant precipitation shortage is observed, "warning" when this precipitation shortage translates into a soil moisture anomaly, and "alert" when these two conditions are accompanied by an anomaly in the vegetation condition.

The design of the CDI includes the study of the relationship between the three individual indices. To achieve this, the SPI-3 (3-month SPI) was computed using the precipitation data obtained from a set of weather stations located in different agricultural areas of Europe, while the soil moisture and fAPAR data were extracted from the pixels of the respective grids surrounding these stations.

The CDI is assessed for the main drought episodes of Europe between 2000 and 2011, using reported data from different sources, such as the EM-DAT Emergency Events Database and Eurostat annual yield estimates. The capability of the CDI to serve for drought early warning is evaluated as well as its robustness against false alarms. The indicator has been spatially implemented for the entire continent using different information layers of the European Drought Observatory. These layers correspond to SPI-3 grids derived from interpolated weather station precipitation data, anomalies of fAPAR from the MERIS Global Vegetation Index and anomalies of soil moisture obtained using the LISFLOOD distributed hydrological model. Maps of the CDI obtained for the European drought event in spring 2011 are shown and discussed, evaluating its operational applicability. To conclude, the main limitations of the indicator are presented and possible avenues for improvement are discussed.