Cornell atmospheric scientists have developed the first-of-its-kind, high-resolution Caribbean drought atlas, with data going back to 1950.
Concurrently, the researchers confirmed the region’s 2013-16 drought was the most severe in 66 years due to consistently higher temperatures – a hint that climate change is to blame.
Because of its topographic complexity, the new atlas delivers critical research data by providing a historical climate backdrop.
This is especially important for the Caribbean, since many of its nations are some of the most vulnerable to severe drought.
Since 1950, the Caribbean has been affected by notable droughts in 1974-77, 1997-98, 2009-10 and in 2013-16. For the 40 million people in the region, drought is the likeliest cause of severe food shortage and it is a key issue for Caribbean food security, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization.
By assembling the atlas – which features colorful, detailed maps over years and months – the scientists confirmed the acuteness of the 2013-16 Caribbean drought.
The latest dry interval is related to El Niño-driven precipitation deficits and to temperature-related evapotranspiration. High temperatures made this the worst drought event in decades, according to the researchers.