Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (Oct 2013)

A global analysis of the impact of drought on net primary productivity

  • T. Chen,
  • G. R. Werf,
  • R. A. M. Jeu,
  • G. Wang,
  • A. J. Dolman

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 17, no. 10
pp. 3885 – 3894


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We investigated the impact of drought on interannual variability of net primary productivity (NPP) from 1997 to 2009, using the standardized precipitation evapotranspiration index (SPEI) drought index and satellite-derived vegetation greenness converted to NPP. SPEI is positive for wet conditions and negative for dry conditions. We found that SPEI and NPP were coupled and showed in-phase behaviour on a global scale. We then used the Köppen climate classification to study the SPEI–NPP relations regionally and found that while NPP and SPEI were positively related (high SPEI, high NPP) in arid and in seasonal dry regions, the opposite occurs in most boreal regions (high SPEI, low NPP). High intensity drought events, such as the 2003 drought in Europe were picked up by our analysis. Our findings suggest that the strong positive relation between global average moisture availability and NPP consists of a composite of the positive relation across dry regions and the coherent NPP decline during and after intensive drought events in humid regions. Importantly, we also found that there are many areas on the globe that show no strong correlation between drought and NPP.