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Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 19 Aug 2019

Submitted as: research article | 19 Aug 2019

Review status
A revised version of this preprint was accepted for the journal BG.

Quantifying impacts of the drought 2018 on European ecosystems in comparison to 2003

Allan Buras, Anja Rammig, and Christian S. Zang Allan Buras et al.
  • Land Surface Atmosphere Interactions, Technical University of Munich, TUM School of Life Sciences Weihenstephan, Hans-Carl-von-Carlowitz Platz 2, 85354 Freising, Germany

Abstract. In recent decades, an increasing persistence of atmospheric circulation patterns has been observed. In the course of the associated long-lasting anticyclonic summer circulations, heat waves and drought spells often coincide, leading to so-called hotter droughts. Previous hotter droughts caused a decrease in agricultural yields and increase in tree mortality, and thus, had a remarkable effect on carbon budgets and negative economic impacts. Consequently, a quantification of ecosystem responses to hotter droughts and a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms is crucial. In this context, the European hotter drought of the year 2018 may be considered as a key event. As a first step towards the quantification of its causes and consequences, we here assess anomalies of atmospheric circulation patterns, temperature loads, and climatic water balance as potential drivers of ecosystem responses which are quantified by remote sensing using the MODIS vegetation indices NDVI and EVI. To place the drought of 2018 within a climatological context, we compare its climatic features and remotely sensed ecosystem response with the extreme hot drought of 2003. 2018 was characterized by a climatic dipole, featuring extremely hot and dry weather conditions north of the Alps but comparably cool and moist conditions across large parts of the Mediterranean. Analysing ecosystem response of five dominant land-cover classes, we found significant positive effects of April–July climatic water balance on ecosystem productivity. Negative drought impacts appeared to affect a larger area and to be significantly stronger in 2018 compared to 2003. Moreover, we found a significantly higher sensitivity of pastures and arable land to climatic water balance compared to forests in both years. The stronger coupling and higher sensitivity of ecosystem response in 2018 we explain by the prevailing climatic dipole: while the generally water-limited ecosystems of the Mediterranean experienced above-average climatic water balance, the less drought-adapted ecosystems of Central and Northern Europe experienced a record hot drought. In conclusion, this study quantifies the drought of 2018 as a yet unprecedented event, outlines hotspots of drought-impacted areas in 2018 which should be given particular attention in follow-up studies, and provides valuable insights into the heterogeneous responses of the dominant European ecosystems to hotter drought.

Allan Buras et al.

Interactive discussion

Status: final response (author comments only)
Status: final response (author comments only)
AC: Author comment | RC: Referee comment | SC: Short comment | EC: Editor comment

Allan Buras et al.

Allan Buras et al.


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Short summary
This study compares the climatic conditions and ecosystem response of the extreme European drought of 2018 with the previous extreme drought of 2003. Using gridded climate data and satellite-based remote sensing information our analyses qualify 2018 as the new European record drought with wide-ranging negative impacts on European ecosystems. Given the observation of forest-legacy effects in 2019 we call for a European wide forest monitoring to assess forests vulnerability to climate change.
This study compares the climatic conditions and ecosystem response of the extreme European...