Earth  ID: 5087

Water Cycle Extremes: Droughts and Pluvials

In a study of 20 years of data from the NASA/German GRACE and GRACE-FO satellites, two NASA scientists confirmed that major droughts and pluvials — periods of excessive precipitation and water storage on the landscape — have been occurring more often. They also found that the worldwide intensity of these extreme wet and dry events – a metric that combines extent, duration, and severity — is closely linked to global warming. Floods and droughts account for more than 20% of the economic losses caused by extreme weather events in the U.S. each year, ranked second after hurricanes among major disasters. The economic impacts are similar around the world, though the human toll tends to be most devastating in poor and developing nations.

From 2015-2021 — seven of the warmest years in the modern record — the frequency of extreme wet and dry events was four per year, compared with three per year in the previous 13 years. This makes sense, say the authors, because warmer air causes more moisture to evaporate from Earth's surface during dry events; warm air can also hold more moisture to fuel severe snow- and rainfall events.

Visualization Credits

Mark SubbaRao (NASA/GSFC): Lead Visualizer
Laurence Schuler (ADNET Systems, Inc.): Technical Support
Ian Jones (ADNET Systems, Inc.): Technical Support
Greg Shirah (NASA/GSFC): Visualizer
Matthew Rodell (NASA/GSFC): Lead Scientist
Mike Carlowicz (SSAI): Writer
Bailing Li (University of Maryland College Park): Lead Scientist
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

Science Paper:
Rodell, M., and B. Li, 2023: Changing intensity of hydroclimatic extreme events revealed by GRACE and GRACE-FO, Nature Water, doi:10.1038/s44221-023-00040-5.

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DLESE >> Hydrology
DLESE >> Natural hazards
SVS >> Water Cycle
GCMD >> Earth Science >> Climate Indicators >> Drought Indices
GCMD >> Earth Science >> Hydrosphere >> Surface Water >> Floods
SVS >> Hyperwall
NASA Science >> Earth

GCMD keywords can be found on the Internet with the following citation: Olsen, L.M., G. Major, K. Shein, J. Scialdone, S. Ritz, T. Stevens, M. Morahan, A. Aleman, R. Vogel, S. Leicester, H. Weir, M. Meaux, S. Grebas, C.Solomon, M. Holland, T. Northcutt, R. A. Restrepo, R. Bilodeau, 2013. NASA/Global Change Master Directory (GCMD) Earth Science Keywords. Version