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Hydrological drought persistence and recovery over the CONUS: A multi-stage framework considering water quantity and quality

Ahmadi, Behzad, Ahmadalipour, Ali, Moradkhani, Hamid
Water research 2019 v.150 pp. 97-110
dissolved oxygen, drought, gauges, habitats, oxygen, runoff, stream flow, turbidity, water quality, water quantity, water temperature, United States
Hydrological droughts have considerable negative impacts on water quantity and quality, and understanding their regional characteristics is of crucial importance. This study presents a multi-stage framework to detect and characterize hydrological droughts considering both streamflow and water quality changes. Hydrological droughts are categorized into three stages of growth, persistence, retreat, and water quality variables (i.e., water temperature, dissolved oxygen concentration, and turbidity) are utilized to further investigate drought recovery. The framework is applied to 400 streamflow gauges across the Contiguous United States (CONUS) over the study period of 1950–2016. The method is illustrated for the 2012 US drought, which affected most of the nation. Results reveal the duration, frequency, and severity of historical droughts in various regions as well as their spatial consistencies and heterogeneities. Furthermore, duration of each stage of drought (i.e., growth, persistence, and retreat) is also assessed and the spatial patterns are diagnosed across the CONUS. Considering the water quality variables, increased water temperature (4 °C on average) and reduced dissolved oxygen concentration (2.5 mg/L on average) were observed during drought episodes, both of which impose severe consequences on ecology of natural habitats. On the contrary, turbidity was found to decrease during droughts, and indicate a sudden increase when drought terminates, due to increase in runoff. Varied drought recovery durations are perceived for different water quality variables, and in general, it takes about two more months for water quality variables to recover from a drought, following the hydrological drought termination.