The Historic Droughts project seeks to identify the complex relationships between natural drivers and the social and economic dimensions of drought and water scarcity through the analysis of a range of historical drought episodes. The project will address a set of linked high-level objectives (each of which links to a project task - find out more about each task here) and research questions, as follows:

Objective 1

Develop a conceptual framework that enables rigorous interdisciplinary analysis of episodes of drought.

Objective 2

Compile environmental science, socio-economic and regulatory historical data related to drought in the UK for a range of sectors (hydrometeorological, water resources, regulation and policy, agricultural, social and cultural).


Objective 3

Build a Drought Inventory for the UK, a knowledge base of past drought characteristics, impacts and responses. Using the information available in the Inventory, examine drought occurrence, propagation and recovery, severity and manifestation of impacts, in order to develop a cross-sectoral drought typology for the UK.


Objective 4

Develop a systems-based understanding of drought, by drawing on the conceptual framework and Drought Inventory, and by addressing the following questions:

  • Do droughts in the historic record exhibit common systems interactions, and, if so, which of these interactions are the most significant with respect to societal impacts?
  • Are significant systems interactions stationary through the historical record, if not how and why have they changed?
  • Can thresholds and triggers be identified either for the drivers and/or the characteristics and impacts of episodes of drought in the UK?

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Objective 5

Develop methods to support decision-making for future drought planning and management by addressing the following questions:

  • How has the socio-economic context and water resource management practices contributed to vulnerability or resilience to drought in the historical record, and what are the implications for changes in planning for the management of future droughts?
  • Based on evidence from the recent historic record, what are the most effective forms of dialogue and information exchange between the public and those responsible for water resource management that will enable the most beneficial outcomes during future episodes of drought?