Unraveling phenological and stomatal responses to flash drought and implications for water and carbon budgets

N. K. Corak, J. A. Otkin, T. W. Ford, L. E. L. Lowman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In recent years, extreme droughts in the United States have increased in frequency and severity, underlining a need to improve our understanding of vegetation resilience and adaptation. Flash droughts are extreme events marked by the rapid dry down of soils due to lack of precipitation, high temperatures, and dry air. These events are also associated with reduced preparation, response, and management time windows before and during drought, exacerbating their detrimental impacts on people and food systems. Improvements in actionable information for flash drought management are informed by atmospheric and land surface processes, including responses and feedbacks from vegetation. Phenologic state, or growth stage, is an important metric for modeling how vegetation modulates land–atmosphere interactions. Reduced stomatal conductance during drought leads to cascading effects on carbon and water fluxes. We investigate how uncertainty in vegetation phenology and stomatal regulation propagates through vegetation responses during drought and non-drought periods by coupling a land surface hydrology model to a predictive phenology model. We assess the role of vegetation in the partitioning of carbon, water, and energy fluxes during flash drought and carry out a comparison against drought and non-drought periods. We selected study sites in Kansas, USA, that were impacted by the flash drought of 2012 and that have AmeriFlux eddy covariance towers which provide ground observations to compare against model estimates. Results show that the compounding effects of reduced precipitation and high vapor pressure deficit (VPD) on vegetation distinguish flash drought from other drought and non-drought periods. High VPD during flash drought shuts down modeled stomatal conductance, resulting in rates of evapotranspiration (ET), gross primary productivity (GPP), and water use efficiency (WUE) that fall below those of average drought conditions. Model estimates of GPP and ET during flash drought decrease to rates similar to what is observed during the winter, indicating that plant function during drought periods is similar to that of dormant months. These results have implications for improving predictions of drought impacts on vegetation.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1827-1851
Number of pages25
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 22 2024


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