Drought risk in the Anthropocene Special Issue published

Papers from the Science+ meeting held at the Royal Society and organised and edited by Professor Jim Hall, Associate Professor Jamie Hannaford and Professor Gabriele Hegerl is now available!

The impacts of droughts on people and the natural environment are increasing, due to climate change and over-exploitation of water resources. This Science+ meeting issue explored scientific understanding of changing drought risk and examined drought impacts on the environment, people and the economy. Policy-makers, practitioners and scientists explored policy options for management of droughts in the future.

Check out the special issue

Special Issue on Drought and Water Scarcity now finalised

The special issue in Frontiers in Environmental Science on Drought and Water Scarcity: Addressing Current and Future Challenges has been successfully finalised.

Water scarcity and drought are increasingly significant environmental challenges. Recent continental scale drought events in Europe have emphasized that the severity, significance and impacts of drought pose a substantial risk to society. Furthermore, climate change projections suggest that in many parts of the world, the frequency, duration and severity of drought events is likely to increase. Despite the immediacy of this risk, communication around drought and water scarcity is difficult, and effecting timely responses is challenging. Whilst there have been significant advances in drought forecasting, monitoring and impact mitigation, many challenges remain.

This Special Issue aims to consolidate cutting-edge, international research on drought and water scarcity, highlighting critical gaps in understanding and setting urgent priorities for research and action, providing an international platform for generating an integrated, systems perspective on this complex, multidimensional and socially constructed environmental hazard.

The special issue is available now as PDF or an e-book, comprising all the articles featured.

Download the Special Issue

Why we are still in drought despite recent rain

The UK experienced a prolonged period of dry weather in 2022 which culminated in a severe summer heatwave and record-breaking temperatures, posing challenges for water resources. Impacts of the protracted dry weather and low river levels included environmental stress in aquatic ecosystems, challenges for farmers in terms of irrigation, harvesting and drilling seeds, stressed terrestrial habitats and severe wildfires.

Steve Turner, hydrologist at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, reflects on this year’s record-breaking heatwave and long period of dry weather and looks at the status of the UK’s water resources as we move into autumn and winter…

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How does the 2022 Drought compare to past events in the UK and how might it evolve in the near future?

The UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology’s blog post last month highlighted the precarious hydrological situation following a very dry spring and early summer. Low groundwater levels, reservoir stocks and especially river flows were already prompting concerns around the water resources situation.

One of the questions that’s commonly asked is how the current event compares to the 1976 drought which still stands as the benchmark episode in the UK. UKCEH’s Simon Parry explores the current hydrological situation, how this compares to previous drought episodes and what might be on the horizon.

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Groundwater’s role in the 2022 Drought

Groundwater plays an important role in water supply in the UK, both for agriculture and irrigation and for public supply. It provides around 30 per cent of public water supplies accross the UK, and sustains flows in rivers and wetlands during dry conditions. The British Geological Survey’s John Bloomfield and Andrew McKenzie explore the affect of the drought in groundwater in 2022.

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How is the 2022 Drought in the UK affecting farmers?

July 2022 was the driest July in England since 1935. Combined with record breaking temperatures, there are fears of disruption to public water supply and poor crop yields, especially for fruit and vegetables. Cranfield University’s Tim Hess and Ian Holman explore how the current drought is affecting farmers and how it compares to previous droughts in The Conversation.

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Heatwave increases pressure on water resources

Increased demand from the heatwave has put short-term pressure on water supply, and should river flows continue to fall, there will be growing threats to water supply later in the year. In his blog, Principal Hydrologist from the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Jamie Hannaford uses the Hydrological Summary, Hydrological Outlook and interactive water situation monitoring tools to look at the current water resources situation and how it may evolve in the coming months. 

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How will climate change affect permanent pastures?

As part of the DRY (Drought Risk and You) project, a field experiment was set up in three river catchments (the Frome in South Gloucestershire, the Don in Yorkshire and the Eden in Fife), to study the effect of reduced rainfall on the growth and biomass production of semi-natural grasslands.

The experiment had four aims: better understanding of how drought might affect UK grasslands; engaging local people in drought science (volunteers/ citizen science); provide a focus for engagement activities; and provide detailed information that could contribute to future hydrological models.

More information about the grassland experiment in the Frome catchment can be found in ‘How will climate change affect permanent pastures? Report on the DRY project rainfall manipulation experiment in the Frome catchment’ Ayling S. (2021).

‘Drought risk in the Anthropocene’ Online Science+ Meeting

‘Drought risk in the Anthropocene’ is a Royal Society Science+ meeting organised by Professor Jim Hall FREng, Associate Professor Jamie Hannaford and Professor Gabriele Hegerl FRS.

Taking place online on the 19th and 20th October 2021 the event is free to attend (advance registration essential).

Register for the event

Droughts and water scarcity jointly pose a substantial threat to the environment, agriculture, infrastructure, society and culture and their impact and prevalence are increasing driven by the climate crisis and increased water demand.

This Science+ meeting will explore scientific understanding of changing drought risk and examine drought impacts on the environment, people and the economy. Policy-makers, practitioners and scientists will discuss policy options for management of droughts in the future.

Speakers at the event include practitioners and researchers from across the world, making this a truly global event to discuss our adaptation to the Anthropocene in regards to drought and water scarcity.

More information about the event, the programme and registration details are available on the Royal Society’s website.

Droughts during 2018/2019 in the UK

A new paper on the 2018/2019 drought in the United Kingdom has been published in the Royal Meteorological Society’s journal Weather

The hot summer of 2018 may be memorable for many and, as well as this period, the paper highlights the perhaps less widespread recognition of a longer period of dry conditions leading up to this heatwave, and a similarly protracted dry spell extending into late 2019 in some parts of the United Kingdom.

Read the open access paper

The paper documents the events in terms of their meteorological and hydrological nature, and assesses the varied impacts droughts had across the UK and touches on how the droughts in 2018/2019 compare with previous episodes.

Figure from the paper showing (a) Standardised Precipitation Index (SPI-1) for June 2018. Black areas indicate SPI less than -4.0. (b) Mean river flows June–July 2018.

The paper was supported by the National Hydrological Monitoring Programme which is operated jointly by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the British Geological Survey and the UKRI Drought and Water Scarcity Programme, via the ‘Historic Droughts’ project.