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Sci Rep. 2015 Feb 25;5:8553. doi: 10.1038/srep08553.

A vantage from space can detect earlier drought onset: an approach using relative humidity.

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University of California, Irvine, California 92697, USA.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91109, USA.


Each year, droughts cause significant economic and agricultural losses across the world. The early warning and onset detection of drought is of particular importance for effective agriculture and water resource management. Previous studies show that the Standard Precipitation Index (SPI), a measure of precipitation deficit, detects drought onset earlier than other indicators. Here we show that satellite-based near surface air relative humidity data can further improve drought onset detection and early warning. This paper introduces the Standardized Relative Humidity Index (SRHI) based on the NASA Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) observations. The results indicate that the SRHI typically detects the drought onset earlier than the SPI. While the AIRS mission was not originally designed for drought monitoring, we show that its relative humidity data offers a new and unique avenue for drought monitoring and early warning. We conclude that the early warning aspects of SRHI may have merit for integration into current drought monitoring systems.

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