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How do we identify flash droughts? A case study in Central European Croplands

Alencar, Pedro Henrique Lima; Paton, Eva Nora

Many definitions and delineation methods exist for identifying flash droughts (FDs), which are events of rapid and unusual large depletion of root-zone soil moisture, in comparison to average moisture conditions, due to climatic compound conditions over a short period of several weeks. Six FD identification methods were compared to analyse their functioning using data from several experimental cropland sites across Central Europe. Co- and misidentification of the FD time series were assessed using confusion and synchronicity metrics on a local scale. Even though a large degree of synchronicity of individual FD events was observed, some divergence in drought periods was detected, which was related to four intrinsic differences in the underlying FD definitions: (1) type of critical variable; (2) velocity of drought intensification; (3) pre-set threshold values for final depletion and/or (4) minimum length of the duration of FDs. To balance the strengths and weaknesses of those methods that are not based on soil moisture, we suggest using an ensemble approach for event identification, which is validated in this study for the temperate central European region. In doing so, the current unclearly defined sub-types of FDs can be detected, regardless of the different combinations of compound drivers and differences in intensification dynamics. All methods were implemented in an R package and are available as a Shiny app for the public.
Published in: Hydrology Research, 10.2166/nh.2022.003, IWA Publishing