Trends and extremes of drought indices throughout the 20th century in the Mediterranean

Sousa P., Trigo R.M., Aizpurua P., Nieto R., Gimeno L., Garcia-Herrera R.
Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 11, 33-51, doi:10.5194/nhess-11-33-2011

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Average monthly precipitation, the original Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) and a recent adaptation to Europe, the Self Calibrated PDSI (scPDSI) have been used here to analyse the spatial and temporal evolution of drought conditions in the Mediterranean during the 20th century. Monthly, seasonal and annual trends were computed for the period 1901-2000 and also for the first and second halves of this period. The statistical significance of trends was obtained with a modified version of the Mann-Kendall test that accounts for serial auto-correlation. The results show a clear trend towards drier conditions during the 20th century in most western and central Mediterranean regions, with the exceptions of northwestern Iberia and most of Turkey that reveal an increase of moisture availability. A Generalized Extreme Values (GEV) analysis was applied to the maximum and minimum regional values of scPDSI, with results pointing towards a significant decline of absolute extreme values in central areas (Italy and Balkans) and a less clear picture emerging in western (Iberia) and eastern (Turkey) realms. The inter-annual variability of the scPDSI index series is shown to be more realistic than the corresponding PDSI version, fitting better the drought episodes sequence and magnitude described in the literature for each sub-region. We assess the decadal and inter-annual variability of the scPDSI for each sub-domain and evaluate the role played by the major teleconnection patterns, and by several sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies. The main driver of scPDSI in western and central Mediterranean areas is the winter North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) pattern that is also relevant during the following spring and summer seasons with anti-correlation values below ?0.60. The second most important mode corresponds to the Scandinavian Pattern that is significantly associated to the scPDSI between winter and summer over central Mediterranean (correlation values around 0.50). Finally, the teleconnection and SST analysis has allowed us to calibrate a stepwise regression model, enabling the forecasting of summer drought conditions six months in advance. The final model obtained is capable of reproducing the observed scPDSI time series fairly well, with a correlation coefficient of 0.79 (0.77 after cross-validation) and a significant gain over climatology (SSc=59%), while the corresponding result against persistence is more modest (SSp6=11%).