News Release

Climate shifts set stage for surge in agricultural flash droughts, warns new study

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Global flash droughts

image: Time series of global flash drought occurrence under SSP585 and SSP245 pathways (CMIP6 multi-model mean) view more 

Credit: Emily Black

A new study published in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences sheds light on the alarming increase in agricultural flash droughts over the 21st century. Agricultural flash droughts, characterized by rapid soil moisture dry down, have the potential to wreak havoc on natural ecosystems and crop cultivation, with implications for societies worldwide.

Using output from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) models, Prof. Emily Black, a distinguished researcher from the University of Reading, delves into the projected changes in agricultural flash droughts. Her study reveals that these events, which were once considered rare, are anticipated to become more frequent in a warmer future climate, spelling out significant challenges for global societies.

"Understanding the dynamics of agricultural flash droughts is crucial as these events can have far-reaching consequences on both the environment and food production," says Emily Black. "Our study demonstrates that these devastating phenomena are closely linked to changes in relative humidity, temperature, and soil moisture, which are all influenced by the changing climate."

The study's findings highlight that agricultural flash droughts are often preceded by unusually low relative humidity and precipitation. Long-term trends in the frequency of these events are found to be driven by shifts in temperature, relative humidity, and soil moisture levels. Hot spots for agricultural flash drought development are anticipated to emerge in various regions, including Europe, South America and southern Africa. The implications may be serious, with flash droughts projected to more than double across mid- and high latitudes during the 21st century.


About Emily Black: Emily Black is a professor at the University of Reading and a senior scientist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, renowned for her contributions to the field of climate science. Her work focuses on understanding the complex interactions between climate variables and their impacts on ecosystems, with a specific emphasis on drought.

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