how does climate change cause drought

How does climate change cause drought? The connection between climate change and drought seems rather complex, but there is a definite connection to notice.

Droughts are becoming more frequent and severe all across the world, and human-caused climate change is a major contributor to this trend.

Drought conditions occur and worsen due to climate change, affecting the hydrological cycle’s most fundamental components.

But, how does climate change cause droughts?

Climate change causes droughts through global warming, changes in precipitation patterns, rapid melting of glaciers and snowpacks, and rising sea levels. 

How Does Climate Change Cause Drought?

climate change's role in causing drought

Climate change is the leading issue faced by the world at large.

It refers to the gradual modification of temperature and usual weather conditions in a particular location.

The prominence of droughts is evident among the various negative effects they bring, including their increasing frequency and severity.

Various climate change phenomena can trigger and worsen droughts, which are prolonged periods of abnormally dry weather.

Here is how climate change may be responsible for causing droughts:

Global Warming and Evapotranspiration

global warming and evapotranspiration

The process of evapotranspiration, which involves both evaporation and plant transpiration, is intensified by global warming.

This exacerbates soil dryness and can lead to drought conditions.

The correlation between human-caused climate change and the amplified occurrence and intensity of droughts globally is a worrying revelation brought to light by this procedure. 

More about Global Warming

Human activities are widely considered to be the primary cause of global warming, which is a substantial and sustained rise in the average temperature of the planet over time.

Releasing higher amounts of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, into the atmosphere is mainly caused by the combustion of fossil fuels.

The retention of these gases causes the planet to become warmer, changes the water cycle, and amplifies severe weather events, such as droughts. 

The Role of Evapotranspiration

the role of evapotranspiration

The combination of plant transpiration and evaporation is known as evapotranspiration, which is a crucial component of the water cycle.

It explains the process of water transferring from the Earth’s surface to the air.

The increasing temperatures on Earth cause the acceleration of evapotranspiration rates due to global warming.

When the process of evaporation intensifies, it extracts more water from the soil, rivers, lakes, and oceans, which can lead to increased dryness of the land and a higher likelihood of drought. 

The Impact of Plant Transpiration

the impact of plant transpiration

Elevated temperatures not just boost the speed of evaporation but also have a notable impact on the transpiration of plants.

When the temperature rises, plants tend to lose more water through their leaves as a natural cooling mechanism.

However, this process can lead to increased soil moisture loss, which can have unintended consequences.

As a result, certain areas may experience drought-like situations despite consistent rainfall patterns.

And this happens because the rate of water loss through heightened transpiration may exceed the rate of water replenishment from rainfall

Changes in Precipitation Patterns

changes in precipitation patterns

Understanding the intricate relationship between climate change, precipitation patterns, and droughts is essential as it has significant implications for our future climate resilience.

Due to the impact of climate change, the decrease in rainfall reduces their water supply, causing a significant drought.

Here is more about how it all links to droughts:

The Impact of Climate Change on Precipitation

Human activities are the main cause of climate change, which has a notable impact on the precipitation patterns of the planet.

This leads to changes in rainfall frequency, intensity, and distribution worldwide.

The complex mechanisms that regulate the Earth’s climate are becoming disrupted, resulting in unusual weather patterns.

the impact of climate change on precipitation

The increase in worldwide temperatures, which is a significant sign of climate change, has a significant impact on the water cycle.

This could lead to a rise in extreme weather conditions such as heavy rainfall and droughts. 

The Water Cycle and Weather Events

The intensification of the water cycle is a direct result of rising global temperatures, which can then lead to droughts.

The water cycle involves:

  • Evaporation of water
  • Cloud formation
  • Precipitation
  • Absorption by the land
the water cycle and weather events

In certain areas, heavy downpours are more likely to occur due to the fact that warmer air has the ability to hold more moisture.

On the other hand, some regions may encounter extended periods of no precipitation, resulting in severe water scarcity and triggering drought conditions.

Fact: The concept of "wet gets wetter, dry gets drier" suggests that areas with abundant rainfall will receive even more precipitation, while dry regions will continue to experience less rainfall.  

Melting Glaciers and Snowpack

melting glaciers and snowpack

The increasing danger of drought worldwide is being exacerbated by climate change, as glaciers and snowpack continue to melt, posing a significant threat to water preservation.

Here is the process of how climate change causes drought through melting glaciers and snowpack:

The Impact of Climate Change on Cold Regions

The impact of climate change is particularly noticeable in colder regions, where the melting of glaciers and snowpack is occurring at an accelerated rate.

The frozen structures act as significant sources of freshwater, gradually discharging water during the melting season.

The accelerated melting of crucial ice resources is being caused by the increase in global temperatures resulting from human-induced climate change. 

Disruption of Seasonal Runoff Patterns

disruption of seasonal runoff patterns

The melting of ice caps and snowpack is generally a seasonal occurrence, where the resulting water contributes to the flow of rivers and streams in a foreseeable manner.

During periods of drought, this runoff becomes essential in replenishing water supplies, especially when other sources of water are limited.

Nevertheless, the disturbance of these patterns is caused by the accelerated melting as a result of the changes in climate.

If the glaciers and snowpack melt earlier than usual, the resulting runoff may happen earlier as well.

This could lead to a situation where the water may not be accessible during the dry season when it is most required.

As a result, it may cause a rise in water shortage, which can add to the severity of dry spells. 

The Albedo Effect

the albedo effect

The rapid melting of ice significantly impacts the albedo effect, which refers to the amount of solar radiation that a surface reflects.

The high albedo of ice and snow causes them to reflect a significant amount of solar radiation back into space.

As soon as these surfaces start to liquefy, they expose darker land or water that has the ability to absorb more sunlight.

This, in turn, leads to a further increase in the Earth’s temperature.

The reduction in albedo triggers a chain reaction that speeds up the process of global warming and intensifies the melting of ice.

The warming that occurs as a result not only worsens the melting process but can also increase the risk of water scarcity, which adds an additional layer to the danger of droughts.

Fact: Managing water resources and preserving ecosystems in regions affected by global warming is a major challenge, given the ongoing trend.

Sea-Level Rise and Saltwater Effect

sea-level rise and saltwater effect

The rise in sea level, which is a significant outcome of climate change, exacerbates drought conditions.

It can lead to this problem by causing saltwater intrusion and interfering with freshwater systems, ultimately intensifying water scarcity.

Sea-Level Rise Causing Drought

The increase in sea level is a consequence of climate change and is caused by two main factors:

  • The warming of seawater which leads to its expansion
  • The melting of land-based ice formations like glaciers and ice sheets

Although the immediate consequences of increasing sea levels, such as inundation of coastal areas, are widely recognized, this occurrence also has secondary effects on drought.

The impact becomes more noticeable by causing saltwater infiltration and disturbance of freshwater ecosystems

Saltwater Intrusion into Coastal Regions

saltwater intrusion into coastal regions

The infiltration of seawater into aquifers, also known as saltwater intrusion, can occur as a result of rising sea levels.

The presence of salt in freshwater resources can lead to contamination, rendering it unfit for drinking and irrigation purposes, which may require expensive desalination methods.

It is ironic that the areas that appear to be benefiting from rising sea levels may also suffer from a type of water shortage, as their access to freshwater is restricted.

Fact: Aquifers are underground freshwater reserves and crucial sources of water for many coastal areas. 

Groundwater Impact

groundwater impact

Coastal regions may experience increased severity of drought due to the changes in natural processes caused by rising sea levels.

The increase in sea levels may hinder the discharge of groundwater, which can disturb the intricate water flow equilibrium in coastal environments.

In addition, the rise in sea level may cause a reduction in river flows as the elevated sea levels at the mouths of rivers create more resistance.

And this can also contribute to droughts.

Fact: Diminished River flows can cause a decrease in the availability of freshwater in coastal regions, worsening water scarcity and potentially resulting in drought situations. 


How does climate change cause drought?

Several mechanisms from increased evapotranspiration, and changed precipitation patterns, to rapid melting of glaciers and rising sea levels can contribute to droughts.

It is important to understand the connection to take corrective measures.

Without significant measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and implement water management strategies, the globe may soon confront catastrophic drought issues.