Land-Climate Interactions: Constraints for Droughts and Heatwaves in a Changing Climate

Project News

published: March 1, 2020

Project finished

The ERC project DROUGHT-HEAT has finished. This site is no longer updated.

For current projects, please refer to the Land-Climate Dynamics website.

published: Feb. 28, 2020

Defence of Kathrin Wehrli

We warmly congratulate Kathrin on successfully defending her doctoral thesis today on "On the sensitivity of heat waves to physical drivers and climate change".

published: Nov. 11, 2019

Underestimated warming in Regional Climate Models

This study led by Clemens Schwingshackl explains why regional climate models project a smaller temperature increase than global climate models.

Read the full article published in ERL.

published: Nov. 6, 2019

Identifying key driving processes of recent heatwaves

A new study led by Kathrin Wehrli provides new insights to the key drivers of major recent heatwaves. For 5 investigated heatwaves, soil moisture and atmospheric circulation are equally important for the resulting temperature anomalies.

Read the full article published in JGR Atmospheres.

published: May 28, 2019

Updated scaling atlas

The updated version of the scaling atlas is available here: Scaling Atlas Based on Wartenburger et al. 2017 regional changes in climate with respect to global mean temperatures can be explored.

published: April 15, 2019

Carbon-Water coupling workshop

The Carbon-Water coupling workshop is taking place the next three days at ETH Zurich. Its goal is to assess the stand of research on carbon-water interactions, in particular with respect to possible global-scale effects of droughts and heatwaves on atmospheric CO2 in both present and future. The workshop consists of ... >> read more

published: April 9, 2019

Simultaneous heatwaves caused by anthropogenic climate change

Without the climate change caused by human activity, simultaneous heatwaves would not have hit such a large area as they did last summer. This is the conclusion of researchers at ETH Zurich based on observational and model data.

Read more in the associated ETH news article.

published: March 18, 2019

Defence of Heewon Moon

We warmly congratulate Heewon on successfully defending her doctoral thesis today on "Precipitation and drought persistence in global climate models".

published: Feb. 17, 2019

Soil moisture-precipitation feedbacks in climate models

A new study from Heewon Moon provides an comprehensive assessment of soil moisture-precipitation feedbacks in a large ensemble of global climate model simulations. They investigate how afternoon rainfall occurrence is affected by morning soil moisture conditions.

Read the full article published in GRL.

published: Dec. 5, 2018

Defence of Martha Vogel

Congratulations on the defense of Martha Vogel. The doctoral thesis on "Temperature extremes in a changing climate – Processes, emergent constraints and impacts" can be downloaded here: ETH Research Collection .

published: Aug. 29, 2018

Drought increases CO₂ concentration in the air

We have shown that during drier years the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rises faster because stressed ecosystems absorb less carbon. This global effect is so strong that it must be integrated in the next generation of climate models.

Read more in the associated ETH news article.

published: Jan. 29, 2018

Reflective surfaces alleviate heatwaves

Unploughed fields and brighter cities could help to noticeably lower extreme temperatures during periods of hot weather, particularly in important agricultural regions and densely populated areas of Europe and North America.

Read more in the associated ETH news article

published: April 12, 2017

Third Internal Drought-Heat meeting at ETH Zürich

List of presentations

Where do we stand, where do we aim to? Sonia S.I. Seneviratne
GRACE as a measure of terrestrial water storage variations and constraint for climate models Vincent Humphrey
Assessing soil moisture-temperature interactions from observations and associated constraints for climate models Clemens Schwingshackl
Role of soil moisture ...

>> read more

published: March 7, 2017

Strong role of soil moisture feedbacks

Our findings on the contribution of soil moisture-atmosphere feedbacks to the warming of extreme temperatures can be watched online: Video link. The complete article can be accessed here: https://doi.org/10.1002/2016GL071235 .

published: Oct. 1, 2016

Welcome to Kathrin Wehrli

Kathrin Wehrli started with her PhD which is part of the DROUGHT-HEAT Project.

published: May 9, 2016

Second Internal Drought-Heat meeting at ETH Zürich

List of presentations

DROUGHT-HEAT Diagnostic Atlas & Dataset Updates Richard Wartenburger
Terrestrial Water Storage Diagnostics Vincent Humphrey
Update: Spatial and Temporal Variability of Land-Atmosphere Coupling Clemens Schwingshackl
Land Surface-Temperature Feedbacks Martha Vogel
Dry Spell Biases in Current Climate Models Heewon Moon
Mitigation of Regional Temperature Extremes with Optimal Land Use Anette ...

>> read more

published: May 1, 2016

Welcome to Annette Hirsch

Annette Hirsch started as a postdoctoral researcher in the DROUGHT-HEAT Project on the assessment of land-geoengineering options to mitigate the effects of droughts and heatwaves.

published: Nov. 17, 2015

First Internal Drought-Heat meeting at ETH Zürich

List of presentations

DROUGHT-HEAT: Land-Climate Interactions: Constraints for Droughts and Heatwaves in a Changing Climate Sonia I. Seneviratne
Overview of PhD and First Results Vincent Humphrey
Overview of PhD and First Results Clemens Schwingshackl
Overview of DROUGHT-HEAT database and LandFlux-EVAL / ISI-MIP projects Richard Wartenburger
Land surface-temperature feedbacks Martha Vogel
Statistical ...

>> read more

published: Oct. 30, 2015

LandMIP workshop at ETH Zurich

View the meeting programme

published: Oct. 1, 2015

Model developer started

Matthieu Leclair started as model developer on the DROUGHT-HEAT project.

published: Sept. 1, 2015

Welcome to Martha Vogel and Heewon Moon

Martha Vogel and Heewon Moon started their PhD theses on present and future simulations of heatwaves and droughts in Earth System Models.

published: Sept. 30, 2014

DROUGHT-HEAT Project start

Successful start of the project. Vincent Humphrey and Clemens Schwingshackl started their PhDs on processes and feedbacks leading to droughts and heatwaves. Richard Wartenburger started his position as data manager.


Project Description

Land-climate interactions mediated through soil moisture and vegetation play a critical role in the climate system, in particular for the occurrence of extreme events such as droughts and heatwaves. These interactions are studied in the ERC granted project DROUGHT-HEAT lead by Prof Sonia I. Seneviratne.


The overall objective of the DROUGHT-HEAT project is to develop a comprehensive and quantitative leading-edge understanding of the land-climate feedbacks controlling heatwaves and droughts in both present and future climate, with the aim of reducing key uncertainties in ESMs and climate projections, and to advance climate change mitigation and adaptation. We consider the processes on global scale, as well as focus on several key land regions including Europe, North America, the Amazon region, and further major agricultural and/or drought-prone regions.


In the past years, in-situ and remote sensing-based datasets of soil moisture, evapotranspiration, and energy and carbon fluxes have become increasingly available, providing untapped potential for reducing associated uncertainties in current climate models (also known as Earth System Models (ESM)). The DROUGHT-HEAT project aims at innovatively exploiting these new information sources in order to

  • derive observations based diagnostics to quantify and isolate the role of land-climate interactions in past extreme events (“Diagnostic Atlas”) ("Processes, Work package 1"),
  • evaluate and improve current ESMs and constrain climate-change projections using the derived diagnostics ("Earth System Models, Work package 2") , and
  • apply the newly gained knowledge to frontier developments in the attribution of climate extremes to land processes and their mitigation through “land geoengineering” ("Frontier applications, Work package 3").

Ground-breaking nature of the project

The DROUGHT-HEAT project integrates the newest land observational datasets with the latest stream of ESMs. Novel methodologies will be applied to extract functional relationships from the data, and identify key gaps in the ESMs’ representation of underlying processes. These will build on physically-based relationships, machine learning tools, and model calibration. In addition, they will encompass the mapping and merging of derived diagnostics in space and time to reduce “blank spaces” in the datasets.

There are two main axes for the project, on the one hand the investigation of droughts vs heatwaves, and their interactions and on the other hand the methodological components within the single work packages. There will be intense interactions and collaborations between the paired PhD theses within each work package, as well as across work packages with respect to data and methodological exchanges.

The DROUGHT-HEAT project is unprecedented in its breadth and scope and will allow a major breakthrough in our understanding of the processes leading to heatwaves and droughts.