Researchers at the University of Oklahoma indicate that flash drought is a phenomenon whose frequency, due to climate change, will increase worldwide, especially in North America and Europe. The largest increase is expected in North America (a change in annual risk from 32% in 2015 to 49% in 2100). Europe, in the most extreme scenario, could see an increase from 32% to 53%, a 1.7-fold increase in annual risk. Flash drought is a threat to agricultural producers, who will face increasing risks to water availability due to the rapid development of drought.

Flash drought – characteristics of the extreme phenomenon

Flash drought is a violent drought that occurs suddenly and unexpectedly, doing serious damage to agriculture and the environment. A recent study by researchers at the University of Oklahoma indicates that the likelihood of flash droughts is expected to increase with the pace of climate change. Flash drought develops quickly, often within weeks, leaving little time to prepare for or mitigate its effects.

It can occur in a variety of climatic conditions, but most often occurs in the summer months, coinciding with periods of high temperatures and low rainfall. These droughts are characterized by a sudden drop in soil moisture and a sharp increase in evapotranspiration, which is the sum of evaporation from the soil surface and transpiration from plants. They usually cause acute water shortages and rapid deterioration of conditions for agriculture, and thus significant economic losses.

Researchers at the University of Oklahoma are studying how a warming climate will affect the frequency of flash droughts and threats to crop fields around the world. The changing climate is expected to increase the number of severe weather events, such as storms, flash floods, flash droughts and more. Global warming may intensify heat waves, increasing the likelihood of very hot days and nights. The warming air also increases evaporation, which could intensify the drought. The problem will be exacerbated by the drying of fields and forests, which are prone to fires, and rising temperatures mean a longer season of danger from them.

Flash drought – forecasting

Flash drought is difficult to predict due to its unexpected onset and rapid development. But scientists are making progress in predicting it, using advanced climate models and real-time monitoring of soil moisture and atmospheric conditions. Researchers at the University of Oklahoma looked at the future of flash droughts under low, medium and high warming scenarios.

“In this study, predicted changes in the frequency of flash droughts and the risk to cropland as a result of them are quantified using global climate model simulations,” said Jordan Christian, a PhD student studying flash droughts. – “We expect the incidence of severe droughts to increase globally in all scenarios, with the sharpest increase observed in scenarios with higher radiative forcing and higher fossil fuel consumption.”

Radiative forcing refers to the imbalance caused by more radiation penetrating the Earth’s atmosphere than leaving it. The burning of fossil fuels is a major contributor to these disparities, and consequently to global warming. The intensifying changes threaten to increase the number of severe weather events, from storms and floods to flash droughts, which are being studied. Despite the progress, further analysis is needed to fully understand the mechanisms of flash droughts and improve the ability to predict and mitigate them.

Flash drought threatens farmers and food production

Flash drought, of all extreme weather and climate events, is likely to bring the most complex challenges to food systems and agricultural productivity over the next century. You can read more about the topic of agricultural drought in the article “Agricultural drought and its monitoring”.

“The study continues to underscore that agricultural producers, both domestic and foreign, will face increasing risks from limited access to water due to the rapid development of drought. As a result, socioeconomic pressures related to food production, including higher prices and social unrest, will also increase when there are crop losses due to severe drought,” said Jeffrey Basara, associate professor at the School of Meteorology in the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences and co-author of the study and advisor to Jordan Christian.

Research conducted by the University of Oklahoma highlights the alarming consequences of climate change-induced flash droughts, underscoring the urgent need for mitigation and adaptation strategies. As the frequency and severity of severe droughts increase, proactive measures are needed to protect farmland, ensure water availability and mitigate the socioeconomic impact on food production and global stability. A new study warns of the environmental consequences of our actions and emphasizes the need to implement solutions immediately.

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