Drought: from local to continental scales

Droughts are widespread climate phenomena globally, which can yield devastating impacts on human life, ecosystems and economies. In a rapidly changing climate, and ever-increasing demands on scarce water resources, there is more need than ever to increase our understanding of droughts and their impacts. This seminar brings together two leading experts whose research is helping to achieve this.

In the first talk, Prof Justin Sheffield, Professor of Hydrology and Remote Sensing, University of Southampton, will examine large-scale drought and human influences, drawing from recent work on modeling experiments to understand human impacts on drought.

In the second, Dr Anne Van Loon, Senior Lecturer Physical Geography, University of Birmingham, will address the local effects of drought drawing from a series of case studies from around the world.

About the speakers

Prof Justin Sheffield is Professor of Hydrology and Remote Sensing at the University of Southampton. He spent 16 years at Princeton University in the US before returning to the UK in 2016, carrying out fundamental and applied research on large-scale hydrology and its interactions with climate variability and change. He has published extensively on hydrological extremes, climate change, and hydrological processes from catchment to global scale, and on the application of research to natural hazards impacts reduction, and water and food security particularly in developing regions, including monitoring and prediction systems. He has received a number of awards including the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water in 2014 for research work on drought monitoring and prediction, and the Plinius Medal of the European Geosciences Union in 2013 for outstanding multi-disciplinary research and applications in hydrological hazards. Most recently he was named as the 2019 Robert E. Horton Lecturer in Hydrology by the American Meteorological Society for advancing hydrologically coherent analyses of drought across time and space scales, and for pioneering the development of integrated drought monitoring tools for food-insecure countries.

Prof Sheffield’s research interests revolve around understanding the interaction of climate variability and change with surface hydrology and extreme hydrological events, such as floods and droughts. Specific research topics include understanding multi-scale mechanisms of drought development, land-atmosphere feedbacks on drought propagation and persistence, the role of tropical cyclones in drought recovery, assessment of human interventions on the water cycle and its extremes, and changes in drought and other extremes under climate change. He is particularly interested in how different drivers and feedbacks manifest across scales, from local to global, and how better understanding of these processes can lead to improved hydrological prediction from short-term to seasonal time scales, and under future climates. This research is applied in the context of water, food, and energy security, particularly in developing countries where data scarcity is a barrier to understanding water resources and the risk of extreme events. He is interested in how current and new satellite remote sensing missions can be used to improve hydrological assessment over large-scales, and how low-cost environmental sensors can be used to provide complementary local information. In support of improving security and reducing risk, Prof Sheffield develops and operationalizes hydrologic monitoring and forecasting systems, and works with stakeholders to improve capacity at all levels to develop water resources management and early warning approaches for disaster risk reduction. He currently leads the BRECcIA project under the RCUK GCRF GROW programme focused on improving water and food security outcomes at the smallholder farmer scale across three countries in sub-Saharan Africa; and is a Co-I on the GCRF DAMS2.0 project on how water-energy-food mega-systems, such as large dams, can be designed and operated for more sustainable and resilient outcomes.

Dr Anne Van Loon is a hydrologist interested in the relationship between water, people and the environment. Her research focuses on hydrological extremes (droughts and floods) and uses interdisciplinary methods to understand hydrological processes and their interaction with human activities. She currently works on groundwater, snow and ice, and urban hydrology in different regions around the world (Chile, South Africa, Europe). Her work focuses on catchment-scale processes and case studies, bridging the gap with global-scale analyses and models.

Anne is a Senior Lecturer in Water Science at the University of Birmingham, UK, since October 2014. At Birmingham she leads the Hydrological Extremes research group (hydrologicalextremes.org) consisting of two postdocs and five PhD students. Anne is leading the IAHS Panta Rhei group on “Drought in the Anthroprocene“, is convening the EGU Hydrological Sciences Division session “Hydrological extremes: from droughts to floods“, and is Associate Editor of Hydrological Sciences Journal. In 2017, she was awarded the EGU Hydrological Sciences Division Outstanding Early Career Scientist Award. In 2013, her PhD project (supervised by Dr Henny Van Lanen) was rewarded with a Storm-van der Chijs Stipendium for most talented female PhD researcher of Wageningen University, and the 2013 Water Resources Research annual Editors’ Choice Award, indicating extremely high quality and significance, for the paper: Making the distinction between water scarcity and drought using an observation-modeling framework.

Anne is currently leading the GCRF Building Resilience project “CreativeDrought”, which aims to increase preparedness for future drought in the Limpopo province in South Africa by combining indigenous knowledge with hydrological scenario modelling, a project on quantifying the feedbacks between drought and human activities in case studies around the world (funded by the Dutch Science Foundation), and is a Co-I of the NERC-funded ‘Groundwater Drought Initiative’, which aims to collect groundwater data from around Europe for coherent European groundwater drought analysis. She was UK-PI of a Newton Fund project on Supporting Effective Drought Risk Management in Vulnerable Catchments of Chile which provided training for stakeholders to set up drought monitoring and risk system in Chile.

This seminar is part of the Oxford Water Network’s hydroclimatic extremes seminar series and will be followed by refreshments at Christ Church.