In a new study, researchers said that rapid development of unexpected drought, called flash drought, could severely affect agricultural and ecological systems with ripple effects that extend even further.
The researchers at the University of Oklahoma said flash drought occurrence is expected to increase globally among all scenarios. They said the sharpest increases would be in scenarios with higher radiative forcing and greater fossil fuel usage. The risk over cropland is expected to increase globally, the researchers said. North America will see largest increase, they added.
Jordan Christian, lead author of the study said, “Global projections of flash drought show increased risk in a warming climate,” published today in Nature Communications Earth and Environment.
“In this study, projected changes in flash drought frequency and cropland risk from it are quantified using global climate model simulations,” Christian said. “We find that the occurrence is expected to increase globally among all scenarios, with the sharpest increases seen in scenarios with higher radiative forcing and greater fossil fuel usage.”
Radiative forcing describes the imbalance of radiation where more radiation enters Earth’s atmosphere than leaves it. Like burning fossil fuels, these activities are among the most significant contributors to climate warming. The changing climate is expected to increase severe weather events from storms, flash flooding, flash droughts and more.
“Flash drought risk over cropland is expected to increase globally, with the largest increases projected across North America and Europe,” Christian said.
Study co-author Jeffrey Basara said the study continues to emphasize that agricultural producers, both domestic and abroad, will face increasing risks associated with water availability due to the rapid development of drought. As a result, socioeconomic pressures associated with food production, including higher prices and social unrest, will also increase when crop losses occur due to flash drought, Basara said.
WHAT IS FLASH DROUGHT?
It is the rapid onset or intensification of drought caused by lower-than-normal rates of precipitation, accompanied by abnormally high temperatures, winds, and radiation. These changes in weather can rapidly alter the local climate. Flash drought intensifies rapidly due to changes in precipitation, temperature, wind, and radiation. These changes in the weather increase evapotranspiration and lower soil moisture. Flash droughts can cause extensive damage to agriculture, economies, and ecosystems if not discovered early.
WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF FLASH DROUGHTS?
They increase wildfire risks, cause public water supply shortages and reduce stream flow. The 2017 Northern Plains flash drought resulted in fires that burned 4.8 million acres and U.S. agricultural losses in excess of $2.6 billion dollars. Flash droughts start and intensify quickly, over periods of weeks to months, compared to years or decades for conventional droughts.