Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2019, Vol. 29 ›› Issue (1): 67-83.doi: 10.1007/s11442-019-1584-3

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Spatio-temporal variations in extreme drought in China during 1961-2015

Jing ZHANG1,2,3,4(), Yanjun SHEN1,*()   

  1. 1. Key Laboratory of Agricultural Water Resources, Hebei Laboratory of Agricultural Water-Saving, Center for Agricultural Resources Research, Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, CAS, Shijiazhuang 050021, China
    2. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
    3. Hebei Provincial Climate Centre, Shijiazhuang 050021, China
    4.Hebei Province Meteorological and Ecological Environment Laboratory, Shijiazhuang 050021, China
  • Received:2018-02-01 Accepted:2018-05-21 Online:2019-01-25 Published:2019-03-15
  • Contact: Yanjun SHEN;
  • About author:

    Author: Zhang Jing, PhD Candidate and Senior Engineer, specialized in climate change and hydrology and water resources. E-mail:

  • Supported by:
    National Key R&D Program of China, No.2016YFC0401403;Climate Change Project of China Meteorological Administration, No.CCSF201851


Understanding the past variations in extreme drought is especially beneficial to the improvementof drought resistance planning and drought risk management in China. Based on the monitoring data of meteorological stations from 1961 to 2015 and a meteorological drought index, the Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI), the spatio-temporal variations in extreme drought at inter-decadal, inter-annual and seasonal scales in China were analyzed. The results revealed that 12 months cumulative precipitation with 1/2 to 5/8 of average annual precipitation will trigger extreme drought. From the period 1961-1987 to the period 1988-2015, the mean annual frequency of extreme drought (FED) increased along a strip extending from southwest China (SWC) to the western part of northeast China (NEC). The increased FED showed the highest value in spring, followed by winter, autumn and summer. There was a continuous increase in the decadal-FED from the 1990s to the 2010s on the Tibetan Plateau (TP), the southeast China (SEC) and the SW. During the period 1961-2015, the number of continuous drought stations was almost the same among 4 to 6 months and among 10 to 12 months of continuous drought, respectively. It can be inferred that drought lasting 6 or 12 months may lead to more severe drought disasters due to longer duration. The range of the longest continuous drought occurred in the 21st century had widely increased compared with that in the 1980s and the 1990s. Our findings may be helpful for water resources management and reducing the risk of drought disasters in China.

Key words: extreme drought, China, standardized precipitation evapotranspiration index, climate change