Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science


An NRP61-research project for the early recognition of critical drought and low flow in Switzerland

Droughts have severe consequences for nature and society. This includes impacts on  agriculture, water supply, energy production, building infrastructure, and ecosystems. As droughts can enhance the severity of heatwaves, they also impact human health. Climate models project that events such as the 2003 drought and heatwave will become more frequent in the coming decades in Switzerland. The early recognition of critical drought conditions has large economic and social benefits and is hence essential for drought risk management. The potential of such applications in Switzerland needs to be investigated.

The prediction and characterization of drought events is challenging for several reasons:

  1. Droughts are complex phenomena involving numerous interacting climate processes;
  2. The sensitivity of regions to droughts depends on several factors, from storage properties and natural resilience to water use and social systems’ vulnerability;
  3. Monitoring of relevant variables such as soil moisture – in particular at regional scale – are lacking in many countries, including Switzerland.

The DROUGHT-CH project aims at the characterization and early recognition of critical drought and low-flow conditions in Switzerland, and will provide the scientific basis for the development of an information and early warning platform for drought and low-flow (similar to the upcoming National platform for Natural Hazards, GIN). The project integrates a nature system component (WP2-WP5), dedicated to the improvement of the modelling, observation, forecast, and analysis of drought and low-flow characteristics in Switzerland, with a use and social system component, dedicated to the identification of the needs of end users, stakeholders and decision makers. Both components will interact and jointly provide the basis for the development of the information and early warning platform, which will be available as a prototype by the end of the project.

Research questions:

Project structure:

The project is divided into seven work packages (WPs). Two WPs frame and guide the project, by addressing the stakeholder survey-based establishment of relevant drought indicators (WP1) and an analysis of economic benefits of drought early warning (WP6). The natural system core of the project includes four WPs: Drought threshold analyses of past measurements (WP2) together with a novel characterisation of dynamic and total basin storage (WP3) will allow a quantification of the natural system’s vulnerability. Furthermore, drought simulation and forecasting by means of land surface and climate models (WP4) as well as distributed hydrological models (WP5) for the whole of Switzerland will be developed and tested. The results of WP1-6 will be integrated for the development of the prototype drought information platform (WP7), which will be available for testing by the end users by the end of the project.

Work packages:




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