Soil moisture drought in Europe: a compound event of precipitation and potential evapotranspiration on multiple timescales

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  • Emanuele Bevacqua
  • Douglas Maraun
  • Mathieu Vrac


Compound events are extreme impacts that depend on multiple variables that need not be extreme themselves. In this study, we analyse soil moisture drought as a compound event of precipitation and potential evapotranspiration (PET) on multiple timescales related to both meteorological drought and heat waves in wet, transitional and dry climates in Europe during summer. Drought indices that incorporate PET to account for the effect of temperature on drought conditions are sensitive to global warming. However, as evapotranspiration (ET) is moisture limited in dry climates, the use of such drought indices has often been criticised. We therefore assess the relevance of the contributions of both precipitation and PET to the estimation of soil moisture drought. Applying a statistical model based on pair copula constructions to data from Fluxnet sites in Europe, we find at all sites that precipitation exerts the main control over soil moisture drought. At wet sites PET is additionally required to explain the onset, severity and persistence of drought events over different timescales. At dry sites, where ET is moisture limited in summer, PET does not improve the estimation of soil moisture. In dry climates, increases in drought severity measured by indices incorporating PET may therefore not indicate further drying of soil but the increased availability of energy that can contribute to other environmental hazards such as heat waves and wildfires. We therefore highlight that drought indices including PET should be interpreted within the context of the climate and season in which they are applied in order to maximise their value.


Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Hydrometeorology
Early online date6 Aug 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Aug 2018


  • Atmosphere-land interaction, Evapotranspiration, Hydrometeorology, Soil moisture, Statistics