12 Aug 2022
12 Aug 2022
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

Assessing agriculture’s vulnerability to drought in European pre-Alpine regions

Ruth Stephan1, Stefano Terzi2,3,4, Mathilde Erfurt1, Silvia Cocuccioni2, Kerstin Stahl1, and Marc Zebisch2 Ruth Stephan et al.
  • 1Environmental Hydrological Systems, University of Freiburg, Freiburg i. Br., 79085, Germany
  • 2Institute for Earth Observation, Eurac Research, Viale Druso 1, 39100, Bolzano, Italy
  • 3Center for Global Mountain Safeguard Research, Eurac Research, Viale Druso 1, 39100, Bolzano, Italy
  • 4United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), Platz der Vereinten Nationen 1, 53113 Bonn, Germany

Abstract. Droughts are natural hazards that lead to severe impacts in the agricultural sector. Mountain regions are thought to have abundant water, but have experienced unprecedented drought conditions as climate change is affecting their environments more rapidly than other places. The effect radiates by reducing water availability well beyond the mountains’ geographical locations. This study aims to improve the understanding of agriculture’s vulnerability to drought in Europe’s pre-Alpine region, considering two case studies that have been severely impacted in the past. We applied a mixed-method approach combining the knowledge of regional experts with quantitative data analyses in order to define region-specific vulnerability based on experts’ identified factors. We implemented two aggregation methods by combining the vulnerability factors that could be supported with subregional data. Whereas the equal weighting method combines all factors with the same weight, the expert weighting method combines the factors with varying weight based on expert opinion. These two methods resulted in vulnerability maps with the expert weighting showing in general higher vulnerability, and partly relocating the medium and lower vulnerabilities to other subregions within the case study regions. In general, the experts confirmed the resulting subregions with higher vulnerability. They also acknowledged the value of mapping vulnerability by adopting different aggregation methods confirming that this can serve as a sensitivity analysis. The identified factors contributing most to the regions’ vulnerability point to the potential of adaptation strategies decreasing the agriculture’s vulnerability to drought that could enable better preparedness. Apart from region-specific differences, in both study regions the presence of irrigation infrastructure and soil texture are among the most important conditions that could be managed to some extent in order to decrease the regions’ vulnerability. Throughout the analyses, the study benefited from the exchange with the experts by getting an in-depth understanding of the regional context with feedback-relations between the factors contributing to vulnerability. Qualitative narratives provided during the semi-structured interviews supported a better characterization of local vulnerability conditions and helped to better identify quantitative indicators as proxies to describe the factors. Thus, we recommend to apply this mixed-method approach to close the gap between science and practitioners.

Ruth Stephan et al.

Status: open (until 02 Oct 2022)

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Ruth Stephan et al.


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Short summary
This study maps agriculture’s vulnerability to drought in the European pre-Alpine regions of Thurgau (CH) and Podravska (SI). We combine region-specific knowlegde supported with quantitative data: experts of the study regions, far apart, identified few common but more region-specific factors that we integrated in two vulnerability 'scenarios'. We highlight the benefits of the participatory approach improving the quantitative results and closing the gap between science and practictioners.