TUSCALOOSA, Alabama – Drought is among the costliest natural hazards in the United States. Regions across the country have felt its wrath this summer. Due to population growth and climate variation, there is a growing concern that droughts have intensified, threatening the sustainability of our water resources.
Communities around the United States need accurate drought monitoring and prediction information to prepare for impacts, but currently available products only partially account for errors and uncertainties in observations and modeling, limiting their reliability. When uncertainty is accounted for, the focus is primarily on precipitation even though drought is also characterized by other environmental variables such as soil moisture.
With a new $473,000 grant from the NOAA Research MAPP Program, Dr. Hamid Moradkhani, the Alton N. Scott professor of engineering at The University of Alabama, will tackle these issues and help improve NOAA scientists’ ability to predict when and where our country is most at risk of drought.
“The abundance of different observations and models developed in the community combined with our new project’s state-of-the-art methods to reduce uncertainty in monitoring drought will provide an opportunity for stakeholders to make more informed decisions and mitigate socio-economic impacts when drought occurs or is expected,” said Moradkhani, who also is executive director of the UA Center for Complex Hydrosystems Research.
To mitigate drought vulnerability, Moradkhani said, accurate land surface data is essential to characterize drought fully. Thus, he and his collaborators at the NOAA National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service, will use a combination of available satellite soil moisture and evapotranspiration (evaporation from the soil and plant surfaces) observations, as well as other land surface observations like albedo (the reflectivity of the earth’s surface and vegetation), vegetation and land surface temperature.
In addition, they will merge these different observations with model outputs through an innovative approach called data assimilation to reduce uncertainties and ultimately improve drought monitoring and prediction.
“Estimation of key environmental variables such as soil moisture and evapotranspiration through data assimilation is of paramount importance due to their strong influence on many water resources applications including agriculture production and effective water resources management,” Moradkhani said.
He added that his team’s research findings and products will be shared with the NOAA National Integrated Drought Information System program to improve its ability to help stakeholders better monitor, forecast, plan for and cope with the impacts of drought.
“If operational agencies are able to anticipate drought several months in advance, then changes in water allocations and water conservation measures can be implemented to mitigate negative impacts,” Moradkhani said. “Enhanced monitoring of drought by means of state of the art satellite observations, modeling, and advanced statistical approaches will result in huge economic benefits.”
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.