Ambiguous agricultural drought: Characterising soil moisture and vegetation droughts in europe from earth observation

Theresa C. van Hateren*, Marco Chini, Patrick Matgen, Adriaan J. Teuling

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Long-lasting precipitation deficits or heat waves can induce agricultural droughts, which are generally defined as soil moisture deficits that are severe enough to negatively impact vegetation. However, during short soil moisture drought events, the vegetation is not always negatively affected and sometimes even thrives. Due to this duality in agricultural drought impacts, the term “agricul-tural drought” is ambiguous. Using the ESA’s remotely sensed CCI surface soil moisture estimates and MODIS NDVI vegetation greenness data, we show that, in major European droughts over the past two decades, asynchronies and discrepancies occurred between the surface soil moisture and vegetation droughts. A clear delay is visible between the onset of soil moisture drought and vegetation drought, with correlations generally peaking at the end of the growing season. At lower latitudes, correlations peaked earlier in the season, likely due to an earlier onset of water limited conditions. In certain cases, the vegetation showed a positive anomaly, even during soil moisture drought events. As a result, using the term agricultural drought instead of soil moisture or vegetation drought, could lead to the misclassification of drought events and false drought alarms. We argue that soil moisture and vegetation drought should be considered separately.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1990
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 19 May 2021


  • Agricultural drought
  • NDVI
  • Soil moisture


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