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Multiscale evaluation of the Standardized Precipitation Index as a groundwater drought indicator

Journal article
Authors Rohini Kumar
Jude L. Musuuza
Anne F. Van Loon
Adriaan J. Teuling
Roland Barthel
Jurriaan Ten Broek
Juliane Mai
Luis Samaniego
Sabine Attinger
Published in Hydrology and Earth System Sciences
Volume 20
Pages 1117-1131
ISSN 1027-5606
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Earth Sciences
Pages 1117-1131
Language en
Subject categories Climate Research, Hydrology, Water in nature and society, Geosciences, Multidisciplinary


The lack of comprehensive groundwater observations at regional and global scales has promoted the use of alternative proxies and indices to quantify and predict groundwater droughts. Among them, the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) is commonly used to characterize droughts in different compartments of the hydro-meteorological system. In this study, we explore the suitability of the SPI to characterize local- and regional-scale groundwater droughts using observations at more than 2000 groundwater wells in geologically different areas in Germany and the Netherlands. A multiscale evaluation of the SPI is performed using the station data and their corresponding 0.5° gridded estimates to analyze the local and regional behavior of groundwater droughts, respectively. The standardized anomalies in the groundwater heads (SGI) were correlated against SPIs obtained using different accumulation periods. The accumulation periods to achieve maximum correlation exhibited high spatial variability (ranges 3–36 months) at both scales, leading to the conclusion that an a priori selection of the accumulation period (for computing the SPI) would result in inadequate characterization of groundwater droughts. The application of the uniform accumulation periods over the entire domain significantly reduced the correlation between the SPI and SGI (≈ 21–66 %), indicating the limited applicability of the SPI as a proxy for groundwater droughts even at long accumulation times. Furthermore, the low scores of the hit rate (0.3–0.6) and a high false alarm ratio (0.4–0.7) at the majority of the wells and grid cells demonstrated the low reliability of groundwater drought predictions using the SPI. The findings of this study highlight the pitfalls of using the SPI as a groundwater drought indicator at both local and regional scales, and stress the need for more groundwater observations and accounting for regional hydrogeological characteristics in groundwater drought monitoring.

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