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Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.


Many parts of the world have experienced frequent and severe droughts during the last few decades. Most previous studies examined the effects of specific drought events on vegetation productivity. In this study, we characterized the drought events in China from 1982 to 2012 and assessed their effects on vegetation productivity inferred from satellite data. We first assessed the occurrence, spatial extent, frequency, and severity of drought using the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI). We then examined the impacts of droughts on China's terrestrial ecosystems using the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). During the period 1982–2012, China's land area (%) experiencing drought showed an insignificant trend. However, the drought conditions had been more severe over most regions in northern parts of China since the end of the 1990s, indicating that droughts hit these regions more frequently due to the drier climate. The severe droughts substantially reduced annual and seasonal NDVI. The magnitude and direction of the detrended NDVI under drought stress varied with season and vegetation type. The inconsistency between the regional means of PDSI and detrended NDVI could be attributed to different responses of vegetation to drought and the timing, duration, severity, and lag effects of droughts. The negative effects of droughts on vegetation productivity were partly offset by the enhancement of plant growth resulting from factors such as lower cloudiness, warming climate, and human activities (e.g., afforestation, improved agricultural management practices).


Earth Systems Research Center

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Ecological Society of America (ESA)

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© 2016 Zhang et al.


This is an article published by Ecological Society of America (ESA) in Ecosphere in 2016, available online: