Using large-scale climate drivers to forecast meteorological drought condition in growing season across the Australian wheatbelt.

Publisher:
ELSEVIER
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Citation:
The Science of the total environment, 2020, 724
Issue Date:
2020-07
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Recurring drought has caused large crop yield losses in Australia during past decades. Long-term drought forecasting is of great importance for the development of risk management strategies. Recently, large-scale climate drivers (e.g. El Niño-Southern Oscillation) have been demonstrated as useful in the application of drought forecasting. Machine learning-based models that use climate drivers as input are commonly adopted to provide drought forecasts as these models are easy to develop and require less information compared to physical-based models. However, few machine learning-based models have been developed to forecast drought conditions during growing season across all Australian cropping areas. In this study, we developed a growing season (Apr.-Nov.) meteorological drought forecasting model for each climate gauging location across the Australian wheatbelt based on multiple lagged (past) large-scale climate indices and the Random Forest (RF) algorithm. The Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) was used as the response variable to measure the degree of meteorological drought. Results showed that the RF model could provide satisfactory drought forecasts in the eastern areas of the wheatbelt with Pearson's correlation coefficient r > 0.5 and normalized Root Mean Square Error (nRMSE) < 23%. Forecasted drought maps matched well with observed drought maps for three representative periods. We identified NINO3.4 sea surface temperature and Multivariate ENSO Index as the most influential indices dominating growing season drought conditions across the wheatbelt. In addition, lagged impacts of large-scale climate drivers on growing season drought conditions were long-lasting and the indices in previous year could also potentially affect drought conditions during current year. As large-scale climate indices are readily available and can be rapidly used to feed data driven models, we believe the proposed meteorological drought forecasting models can be easily extended to other regions to provide drought outlooks which can help mitigate adverse drought impacts.
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