New USGS Science Plan Designed to Help Plan for Drought Effects on People, Communities, and Ecosystems

Release Date:

The U. S. Geological Survey is poised to bring a dynamic array of science and tools to help decision-makers manage and offset effects of increased drought across the United States, according to a drought plan report released today.

The U. S. Geological Survey is poised to bring a dynamic array of science and tools to help decision-makers manage and offset effects of increased drought across the United States, according to a drought plan report released today.

Image: Vegetation Drought
The Vegetation Drought Response Index (VegDRI) incorporates satellite observations of vegetation to monitor at a finer spatial detail than other commonly used drought indicators. (USGS, Public domain.)
Image: USGS Documents 2015 Western U.S. Drought
A hydrologic technician from the USGS Idaho Water Science Center measures streamflow in Homer Creek near Herman, ID. The USGS is collecting data at hundreds of sites on rivers and streams in six western states to document the 2015 drought. USGS scientists will analyze the data to identify which rivers and streams may be most vulnerable to future droughts.(Credit: Jay Bateman, USGS. Public domain.)

Human population growth, which exacerbates land- and water-use issues, and a warming world, mean that more frequent and severe droughts are scientifically forecasted to occur in many U.S. regions. Consequently, USGS scientists from a variety of disciplines developed this plan as a forward-looking map for understanding the complexity of drought issues and the impact of drought on people and natural systems. 

“Drought is a slow-onset disaster, and understanding its impacts to prepare drought-resilience actions is critical,” said USGS scientist and Drought Coordinator Andrea Ostroff.  “The key to helping offset its often-devastating effects on people, the economy and the environment is to provide managers with comprehensive science-based information for their decisions.”

The plan lays out a comprehensive response to stakeholders’ needs and to inform effective, research-based decisions and actions to help the nation’s communities and natural areas adapt to and offset the drought effects.  It also details improved integration and coordination in the ways the USGS provides drought science to help decision-makers manage and mitigate effects of drought.

 “Over the past several years, many regions in the United States have experienced extreme drought conditions, fueled by prolonged periods of reduced precipitation and exceptionally warm temperatures,” said Clint Muhlfeld, a USGS research ecologist and a USGS drought team member. “As global temperatures continue to rise, the frequency, intensity and duration of droughts are predicted to increase across many regions of North America, with enormous consequences for people and natural ecosystems.”

The coordinated and integrated USGS drought science plan, said Muhlfeld, represents a new path forward toward understanding drought processes and impacts on humans and ecosystems to build effective national drought-resilience capabilities.

The National Drought Resilience Partnership, an interagency federal working group initiative started in 2013, developed an action plan to promote drought resilience nationwide. The action plan identified USGS as an essential agency for this because of its scientific capabilities to address drought issues directly or indirectly at regional and national levels. 

Corn showing the effects of drought in Texas
Corn showing the effects of drought in Texas. (Credit: Bob Nichols, USDA. Public domain.)

 

The USGS drought science plan, said Ostroff, brings to bear the agency’s considerable expertise in numerous scientific disciplines to understand complex interactions that determine drought and drought effects; describe uncertainties associated with drought causes and effects; develop robust models to predict drought risk and vulnerability for planning and mitigation purposes; advance efforts in coordinated drought science that will lead to development of drought-monitoring systems; and deliver decision-support science to help federal, state, tribal, regional and local stakeholders prepare and manage for the future across the country.

Ultimately, this coordinated and integrated approach will help the nation prepare for and cope with drought to protect human health and safety, natural ecosystems, national security, the economy and quality of life in changing world.

The USGS Circular, USGS Integrated Drought Science, was published today and was written by the USGS Drought Team and includes scientists Andrea C. Ostroff, Clint C. Muhlfeld, Patrick M. Lambert, Nathaniel L. Booth, Shawn L. Carter, Jason M. Stoker and Michael J. Focazio.