Plant patterns can help predict droughts

  • 02.11.2022
  • Stanford Daily

New research from Stanford’s Remote Sensing Ecohydrology group published earlier this week in Nature improved the accuracy of earth systems models that examine the impact of droughts on ecosystems through considering plants’ breathing patterns.

Droughts are increasing around the world: More than 29 million acres of land are lost to drought and desertification annually, according to a 2022 UN report. Better understanding of how plants contribute to droughts is critical to planning adaptation response.

The paper, led by Meng Zhao, a postdoctoral researcher in Earth system science, used satellite data of total water storage and precipitation data to create a comprehensive map of water balance. The total water storage data is from Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) and GRACE Follow-On (GRACE-FO), and precipitation data is from Global Precipitation Climatology Project (GPCP).

By leveraging this new, more accurate data, Zhao — along with colleagues from University of California, Irvine, and Ohio State University — were able to track the changes in water mass due to evapotranspiration of plants, allowing them to estimate signs of changes in water loss through plants in a given region.