Satellite observations of regional drought severity in the continental United States using GRACE-based terrestrial water storage changes

Meng Zhao, A. Geruo, Isabella Velicogna, John S. Kimball

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


Drought monitoring is important for characterizing the timing, extent, and severity of drought for effective mitigation and water management. Presented here is a novel satellite-based drought severity index (DSI) for regional monitoring derived using time-variable terrestrial water storage changes from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE). The GRACE-DSI enables drought feature comparison across regions and periods, it is unaffected by uncertainties associated with soil water balance models and meteorological forcing data, and it incorporates water storage changes from human impacts including groundwater withdrawals that modify land surface processes and impact water management. Here, the underlying algorithm is described, and the GRACE-DSI performance in the continental United States during 2002-14 is evaluated. It is found that the GRACE-DSI captures documented regional drought events and shows favorable spatial and temporal agreement with the monthly Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) and the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM). The GRACE-DSI also correlates well with a satellite-based normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), indicating sensitivity to plant-available water supply changes affecting vegetation growth. Because the GRACE-DSI captures changes in total terrestrial water storage, it complements more traditional drought monitoring tools such as the PDSI by providing information about deeper water storage changes that affect soil moisture recharge and drought recovery. The GRACE-DSI shows potential for globally consistent and effective drought monitoring, particularly where sparse ground observations (especially precipitation) limit the use of traditional drought monitoring methods.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6297-6308
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 1 2017


  • Drought
  • Hydrology
  • Hydrometeorology
  • Remote sensing
  • Satellite observations


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