Drought is a major climatic risk resulting from complex interactions between the atmosphere, the continental surface and water resources management. Droughts have large socioeconomic impacts and recent studies show that drought is increasing in frequency and severity due to the changing climate.
Drought is a complex phenomenon and there is not a common understanding about drought definition. In fact, there is a range of definitions for drought. In increasing order of severity, we can talk about: meteorological drought is associated to a lack of precipitation, agricultural drought, hydrological drought and socio-economic drought is when some supply of some goods and services such as energy, food and drinking water are reduced or threatened by changes in meteorological and hydrological conditions.
A number of different indices have been developed to quantify drought, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. The most commonly used are based on precipitation such as the precipitation standardized precipitation index (SPI; McKee et al., 1993, 1995), on precipitation and temperature like the Palmer drought severity index (PDSI; Palmer 1965), others rely on vegetation status like the crop moisture index (CMI; Palmer, 1968) or the vegetation condition index (VCI; Liu and Kogan, 1996). Drought indices can also be derived from climate prediction models outputs. Drought indices base on remote sensing based have traditionally been limited to vegetation indices, notably due to the difficulty in accurately quantifying precipitation from remote sensing data. The main drawback in assessing drought through vegetation indices is that the drought is monitored when effects are already causing vegetation damage. In order to address drought in their early stages, we need to monitor it from the moment the lack of precipitation occurs.
Thanks to recent technological advances, L-band (21 cm, 1.4 GHz) radiometers are providing soil moisture fields among other key variables such as sea surface salinity or thin sea ice thickness. Three missions have been launched: the ESA’s SMOS was the first in 2009 followed by Aquarius in 2011 and SMAP in 2015.
A wealth of applications and science topics have emerged from those missions, many being of operational value (Kerr et al. 2016, Muñoz-Sabater et al. 2016, Mecklenburg et al. 2016). Those applications have been shown to be key to monitor the water and carbon cycles. Over land, soil moisture measurements have enabled to get access to root zone soil moisture, yield forecasts, fire and flood risks, drought monitoring, improvement of rainfall estimates, etc.
The advent of soil moisture dedicated missions (SMOS, SMAP) paves the way for drought monitoring based on soil moisture data. Initial assessment of a drought index based on SMOS soil moisture data has shown to be able to precede drought indices based on vegetation by 1 month (Albitar et al. 2013).
In this presentation we will be analysing different drought episodes in the Ebro basin using both soil moisture and vegetation based indices to compare their different performances and test the hypothesis that soil moisture based indices are earlier indicators of drought than vegetation ones.