Megadroughts in the Common Era and the Anthropocene

Benjamin I. Cook, Jason E. Smerdon, Edward R. Cook, A. Park Williams, Kevin J. Anchukaitis, Justin S. Mankin, Kathryn Allen, Laia Andreu-Hayles, Toby R. Ault, Soumaya Belmecheri, Sloan Coats, Bethany Coulthard, Boniface Fosu, Pauline Grierson, Daniel Griffin, Dimitris A. Herrera, Monica Ionita, Flavio Lehner, Caroline Leland, Kate MarvelMariano S. Morales, Vimal Mishra, Justine Ngoma, Hung T.T. Nguyen, Alison O’Donnell, Jonathan Palmer, Mukund P. Rao, Milagros Rodriguez-Caton, Richard Seager, David W. Stahle, Samantha Stevenson, Uday K. Thapa, Arianna M. Varuolo-Clarke, Erika K. Wise

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Exceptional drought events, known as megadroughts, have occurred on every continent outside Antarctica over the past ~2,000 years, causing major ecological and societal disturbances. In this Review, we discuss shared causes and features of Common Era (Year 1–present) and future megadroughts. Decadal variations in sea surface temperatures are the primary driver of megadroughts, with secondary contributions from radiative forcing and land–atmosphere interactions. Anthropogenic climate change has intensified ongoing megadroughts in south-western North America and across Chile and Argentina. Future megadroughts will be substantially warmer than past events, with this warming driving projected increases in megadrought risk and severity across many regions, including western North America, Central America, Europe and the Mediterranean, extratropical South America, and Australia. However, several knowledge gaps currently undermine confidence in understanding past and future megadroughts. These gaps include a paucity of high-resolution palaeoclimate information over Africa, tropical South America and other regions; incomplete representations of internal variability and land surface processes in climate models; and the undetermined capacity of water-resource management systems to mitigate megadrought impacts. Addressing these deficiencies will be crucial for increasing confidence in projections of future megadrought risk and for resiliency planning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)741-757
Number of pages17
JournalNature Reviews Earth and Environment
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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