11 May 2023
 | 11 May 2023

Detecting the human fingerprint in the summer 2022 West-Central European soil drought

Dominik L. Schumacher, Mariam Zachariah, Friederike Otto, Clair Barnes, Sjoukje Philip, Sarah Kew, Maja Vahlberg, Roop Singh, Dorothy Heinrich, Julie Arrighi, Maarten van Aalst, Mathias Hauser, Martin Hirschi, Verena Bessenbacher, Lukas Gudmundsson, Hiroko K. Beaudoing, Matthew Rodell, Sihan Li, Wenchang Yang, Gabriel A. Vecchi, Luke J. Harrington, Flavio Lehner, Gianpaolo Balsamo, and Sonia I. Seneviratne

Abstract. In the 2022 summer, West-Central Europe and several other northern-hemisphere mid-latitude regions experienced substantial soil moisture deficits in the wake of precipitation shortages and elevated temperatures. Much of Europe has not witnessed a more severe soil drought since at least the mid-20th century, raising the question whether this is a manifestation of our warming climate. Here, we employ a well-established statistical approach to attribute the low 2022 summer soil moisture to human-induced climate change, using observation-driven soil moisture estimates and climate models. We find that in West-Central Europe, a June–August root-zone soil moisture drought such as in 2022 is expected to occur once in 20 years in the present climate, but would have occurred only about once per century during pre-industrial times. The entire northern extratropics show an even stronger global warming imprint with a 20-fold soil drought probability increase or higher, but we note that the underlying uncertainty is large. Reasons are manifold, but include the lack of direct soil moisture observations at the required spatiotemporal scales, the limitations of remotely sensed estimates, and the resulting need to simulate soil moisture with land surface models driven by meteorological data. Nevertheless, observation-based products indicate long-term declining summer soil moisture for both regions, and this tendency is likely fueled by regional warming, while no clear trends emerge for precipitation. Finally, our climate model analysis suggests that in a 2 °C world, 2022-like soil drought conditions would become twice as likely for West-Central Europe compared to today, and would take place nearly every year across the northern extratropics.

Dominik L. Schumacher et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-717', Anonymous Referee #1, 08 Jun 2023
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Dominik Schumacher, 21 Sep 2023
  • RC2: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-717', Anonymous Referee #2, 10 Aug 2023
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC2', Dominik Schumacher, 21 Sep 2023

Dominik L. Schumacher et al.

Dominik L. Schumacher et al.


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Short summary
As our climate warms, soils in West-Central Europe and across much of the northern extratropics are expected to dry out more often. An event such as the 2022 summer soil drought in Europe would naturally occur about once per century, but the current global warming of 1.2 °C has already increased the probability of such an event five-fold. With even more warming, at +2 °C, we expect a 2022-like drought or worse every 10th summer, being 10 times more likely due to human-induced climate change.