Aims and Objectives

a. Context

US CLIVAR was instrumental in establishing the Drought Information Group (DIG) effort (Legler and Pirani 2009), which was charged with leveraging and taking advantage of existing activities on drought (in particular those of GEWEX and CLIVAR) to identify, coordinate, and encourage additional drought research activities under the WCRP crosscut on climate extremes. The initiative resulted in a scoping white paper as well as two DIG-initiated workshops. The objective of the first workshop was to better define the international needs for improved drought monitoring and prediction – both users needs and needs for improved scientific understanding. The second workshop had as its primary goal the scoping of a Global Drought Information System (GDIS) – an identified primary need from the first workshop. Specific accomplishments of DIG and these workshops are as follows:

  1. The development of a white paper on “Drought Predictability and Prediction in a Changing Climate: Assessing Current Predictive Knowledge and Capabilities, User Requirements and Research Priorities”
    The paper examines current prediction capabilities and user needs with the aim of identifying areas that would benefit from international coordination, and helped to define the goals of the workshop that was held on this topic on 2-4 March 2011 in Barcelona, Spain: WCRP Workshop on Drought Predictability and Prediction in a Changing Climate: Assessing Current Knowledge and Capabilities, User Requirements and Research Priorities.
  2. The above Barcelona meeting (139 attendees from more than 30 countries) produced a workshop report ( summarizing the findings and identifying three major action items to 1) develop a drought catalogue, 2) carry out coordinated analyses of high impact droughts, and 3) develop a drought early warning system. This led to the formation of three subgroups tasked with moving forward on the above recommendations. These efforts, together with a world-wide survey of user drought information needs and capabilities (available at became part of the planning for an experimental global drought information system (GDIS). The third action item above led to the second (Frascati) workshop with the goal of better scoping out the user needs and assessing current capabilities for an experimental GDIS.
  3. The Frascati meeting (involving 90 participants from more than 25 countries) highlighted several issues and produced several recommendations regarding an experimental GDIS ( Key issues centered on identifying the mismatch between current capabilities and needs (e.g., the connection between regional systems and regional drought information, and the type of information provided by a global drought information system). How do we insure consistency and how do we allow the regional information to inform the GDIS? The key recommendations were to develop the GDIS with three basic components consisting of:

  1. A real time Prediction and monitoring component: It was recommended to implement the initial global system within the NIDIS Global Drought Portal (GDP) and at the NOAA/Climate Prediction Center (CPC), with pilot studies employing national/regional products focused on comparisons, validation, and to address potential product mismatch issues.
  2. A Drought Catalogue (as proposed earlier) to provide baseline information of drought to the world community and in which a special collection of the Journal of Climate on “Drought characterization and mechanisms world-wide” would be a key first step.
  3. Case studies and other drought research to develop national and international collaborations to study the mechanisms and predictability of high profile drought and heat wave events, with strong links to the affected users (the idea being that this will help to periodically refresh GDIS capabilities).

In addition to the above DIG activities, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has an extensive history of advancing drought mitigation, and has recently convened the High Level Meeting on National Drought Policy. Furthermore, monitoring and predicting climate extremes (drought and heat waves) are part of the Global Framework of Climate Services. A proposal was introduced in 2007 by the USA to develop a Global Drought Early Warning System (GDEWS) at the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) Plenary Session, which has become part of the GEO Work Plan. Multiple organizations are joining together to help make global, continental, and trans-national drought monitoring, prediction, and drought vulnerability assessment a reality.

b. Goals of the proposed workshop

There has been considerable progress on various aspects of the GDIS as outlined in the above three recommendations from the Frascati meeting. Regarding recommendation (i) there is now a commitment to have the Global Drought Monitor Portal (GDMP) as a foundation for the GDIS. We also have verbal commitments from various forecasting groups within the US and internationally to provide forecast products to the GDIS, and various groups throughout the world have expressed interest in contributing to pilot projects. Regarding recommendation (ii) we are well underway to producing a GDIS Journal of Climate Special Collection to characterize drought world-wide (organized by R. Stewart and S. Schubert). Regarding recommendation (iii), such a case-study approach to organizing drought research was recently implemented by the NOAA Drought Task Force (there is considerable overlap between the GDIS and NOAA DTF leadership), though as yet we have not been successful in developing something similar at the international level.

This workshop aims to build on the above progress in developing an experimental GDIS. In the following we outline the three main goals of the workshop.

  1. Understanding drought mechanisms and their predictability is a core scientific focus of DIG. The approach put forward in the first DIG workshop (and confirmed at the second) is through the development of a Drought Catalogue/case study approach. A similar approach has been successfully applied for the study of US drought, but DIG needs to move this forward globally. To do this at the workshop we will review recent research results focused on understanding of drought mechanisms and their predictability on a wide range of time scales, soliciting presentations from leading scientists (including those that are contributing to the GDIS Journal of Climate special collection on drought mechanisms world-wide) to summarize current understanding and identify remaining research challenges and gaps (here the end goal is to develop a plan for addressing those challenges and gaps through coordinated research).
  2. Advancing regional climate information and decision support within the GDIS framework is the core user and decision support goal of DIG. The focus will be on ensuring that WCRP research priorities mesh with GEO/WMO efforts to build capacity at the regional level. What is expected of the research community over the next 5-10 years for both prediction and monitoring? Invitees will include representatives of some of the key regional drought information providers throughout the world.
  3. Assessing the current capabilities and needs for global drought monitoring and forecasting, and defining the next steps for the GDIS. A key focus here will be on producing an implementation plan for a short duration pilot project to demonstrate current GDIS capabilities. Issue to be considered include: how to balance top-down global and bottom-up regional approaches? How do we ensure links to NIDIS and other national efforts. What is the most practical way forward in the current funding environment?