Saturday, June 25, 2011

New tool predicts drought six months out

Natalie Muller in Australian Geographic: A new drought forecasting model could help water authorities prepare for droughts up to six months before they happen. Dr Shishutosh Barua, a water engineer from Victoria University, developed the drought-prediction tool for his PhD thesis, and hopes an early warning will lessen the impact of the next inevitable dry spell on communities.

Droughts are a common occurrence in Australia, leaving the land parched and often wreaking havoc on communities and their water supplies. Shishutosh says the recently ended 13-year drought showed how vulnerable people were to water shortages in Australia. He believes six months could buy governments some time to implement water management policies early.

"If they can predict there will be a drought, they can set the water restriction levels and save water by not releasing it from storage beforehand," he says. Shishutosh also used his model to accurately detect past major historical droughts in Victoria. While there is plenty of information about past droughts, there is a gap in forecasting data, and predicting when they will happen is fraught with difficulty.

Shishutosh's drought index measures several water and climatic variables (water storage, stream flow, water in the soil, evaporation and rainfall), as well as past drought data, to assess the dryness of an area.
He believes his drought-forecasting model is far more conclusive in predicting up-coming droughts than traditional models, which usually only analyse rainfall….

Great Sandy Scars. In a small corner of the vast Great Sandy Desert in Western Australia, large sand dunes -the only sand in this desert of scrub and rock- appear as lines stretching from left to right. The light-colored fan shapes are scars from wildfires. USGS satellite photo

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