Long lead time drought forecasting using lagged climate variables and a stacked long short-term memory model.

Publication Type:
Journal Article
The Science of the total environment, 2021, 755, (Pt 2), pp. 142638
Issue Date:
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Drought forecasting with a long lead time is essential for early warning systems and risk management strategies. The use of machine learning algorithms has been proven to be beneficial in forecasting droughts. However, forecasting at long lead times remains a challenge due to the effects of climate change and the complexities involved in drought assessment. The rise of deep learning techniques can solve this issue, and the present work aims to use a stacked long short-term memory (LSTM) architecture to forecast a commonly used drought measure, namely, the Standard Precipitation Evaporation Index. The model was then applied to the New South Wales region of Australia, with hydrometeorological and climatic variables as predictors. The multivariate interpolated grid of the Climatic Research Unit was used to compute the index at monthly scales, with meteorological variables as predictors. The architecture was trained using data from the period of 1901-2000 and tested on data from the period of 2001-2018. The results were then forecasted at lead times ranging from 1 month to 12 months. The forecasted results were analysed in terms of drought characteristics, such as drought intensity, drought onset, spatial extent and number of drought months, to elucidate how these characteristics improve the understanding of drought forecasting. The drought intensity forecasting capability of the model used two statistical metrics, namely, the coefficient of determination (R2) and root-mean-square error. The variation in the number of drought months was examined using the threat score technique. The results of this study showed that the stacked LSTM model can forecast effectively at short-term and long-term lead times. Such findings will be essential for government agencies and can be further tested to understand the forecasting capability of the presented architecture at shorter temporal scales, which can range from days to weeks.
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