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GEO 2017-2019 Work Programme


Global Drought Information System (GDIS)

Activity ID: 123


The purpose of the Global Drought Information System (GDIS) is to assist in ensuring the sustainability of the global water supply and to carry out global monitoring of the variability of water as it relates to drought and water scarcity.  While considerable effort has been expended at the national level on drought monitoring and mitigation, the scientific community united together to form GDIS, to address the lack of attention that was being given to drought at the global scale (or the regional/continental scale), including assessing how changing climate at the global level would affect drought. 

From the outset, GDIS’s primary goal has been building up regional drought monitoring (and prediction) activities within National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) of countries over each continent in a “bottom up” effort to provide a more accurate, spatially detailed continent-by-continent mapping (and documentation) of global drought.

The second goal of GDIS is a “top down” system providing near-real-time global drought monitoring.  Such a system is built upon real-time global precipitation monitoring that meshes long-term, land-based Climate Data Records (CDRs) of precipitation measured at synoptic stations, with real-time, satellite-based global precipitation monitoring. Such a system can detect precipitation anomalies (and deficiencies in incoming water supply) by screening Standardized Precipitation Index. However, available surface water is not determined by precipitation alone, but by the difference between precipitation and evapotranspiration.  Global evapotranspiration monitoring is another Essential Climate Variable which, unfortunately, is not at the same level of maturity as global precipitation monitoring. Nevertheless, roll-out testing of combined space-based, modeled, and sampled ET is being carried out for drought detection globally. A third, more mature global monitoring technique is provided through space-based global vegetation monitoring, since drought-induced water stress can be detected as changes in vegetation health.

The Agenda 2030’s new Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) for water calls for global monitoring of water usage and water stress.  These also provide a way to assess drought vulnerability and drought risk.  The global combined land-based, space-based precipitation monitoring used for drought monitoring can also be used for the precipitation portion of the global water supply; the remaining portions are transnational surface water flows (which can be updated from Global Runoff Data Center) and transnational groundwater flows (in certain regions).  These techniques provide combined land-based and remote sensing techniques that can supplement, verify, and complement the time-averaged, “stationary” survey-based water information collected by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Aquastat system (as part of UN Water’s Sustainable Water Goal).  Space-based technologies for domestic water consumption and agricultural water use will also be investigated for adoption to complement the survey approach.

The fourth goal of the Global Drought Information System (GDIS) is to rapidly identify “hot spots” of food vulnerability and insecurity (arising out of drought-induced interruptions of water supply. For rain-fed farming areas, such as sub-Saharan Africa, “nowcasting” (monitoring of real-time conditions) is not as valuable as more reliable forecasting, which provides additional lead time.   Consequently, the fourth key goal is assessing accuracy and reliability of European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) SEAS seasonal forecasts and North American Multi-model Ensemble forecasts (as well as those of other centers).

Activities for the period

Already existing network partners within GDIS include the North American Drought Monitor (NADM) ,the European Drought Observatory (EDO), and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM).  A new continental partner drought network is being developed (as a GDIS activity) within Central and South America, also under the auspices of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Global and regional pilots to be pursued, along with addition of new content to the existing data portal:

  1. Development of a Regional Drought Association for South America (and Central America);
  2. Development in conjunction with WMO of the “One Stop Shop” drought information service through the GDIS portal;
  3. Continue development in the adaptation of the global precipitation monitoring system (for GDIS global drought monitoring) to recover global water availability maps for global water stress monitoring. Investigate space-based technologies for global water usage monitoring. Work with UN Water and FAO Aquastat’s (and possibly GCOS) development of global water stress monitoring;
  4. Assess global drought prediction system based upon ECMWF SEAS (seasonal forecasts) and North American Multimodel Ensemble forecasts;
  5. Assess feasibility for establishing regional drought associations in South Asia with WMO and Middle East-North Africa (MENA).

User engagement

The 2nd GDIS workshop convened a South American panel, in which the Regional Climate Centers gathered together for the first time, discussing steps to form a South American regional drought association.  A follow up meeting will be held in Argentina next year (2017) to formalize arrangements and prepare higher resolution South American drought maps to add to the global drought map (co-listed with AmeriGEOSS).

Future plans

The Paris agreement of 2015, concluded at the end of the 21st Session of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), calls for: “strengthening systematic observation of the climate system and early warning systems in a manner that supports decision making.”  The WMO has interpreted this clause as requiring more extensive development of the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS), including expansion of the Anthropogenic Water Usage Essential Climate Variable (ECV) into a global water stress monitoring system.  GDIS will participate in development and rollout of both the Water SDG and the GCOS Water Use ECVs.


  • In-kind contributions from Argentina Servicio Meteorologico Nacional (SMN), CIIFEN, CPTEC, ECMWF, NIDIS (GDIS Portal), NOAA, JRC, WMO;
  • The 1st GDIS workshop was supported jointly by the World Climate Research Program (WCRP), CLIVAR, and NIDIS. The 2nd GDIS workshop was supported largely by WMO and NIDIS, with a contribution from CLIVAR.



Members: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, EC, Pakistan, Russian Federation, USA.

Participating Organizations: ECMWF, FAO, WCRP, WMO.

Others: Centro Internacional para la Investigación del Fenómeno de El Niño (CIIFEN), Drought Management Centre for Southeastern Europe (DMCSEE), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), World Food Program (WFP).

Linkages across the Work Programme

Flagships: GEO BON; GEOGLAM.

Initiatives: AfriGEOSS; AmeriGEOSS; AOGEOSS; GEOGLOWS; GWIS; EO for the Water-Energy-Food Nexus.

Leadership & Contributors (this list is being populated)




Implementing Entity


Lead (PoC)

Will Pozzi

United States