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State of the Science Synthesis on Transformational Drought: Understanding Drought’s Potential to Transform Ecosystems Across the Country

Principal Investigator
Shelley Crausbay


Release Date
Start Date
End Date


Drought events have cost the U.S. nearly $245 billion since 1980, with costs ranging from $2 to $44 billion in any given year. However, these socio-economic losses are not the only impacts of drought. Ecosystems, fish, wildlife, and plants also suffer, and these types of drought impacts are becoming more commonplace. Further, ecosystems that recover from drought are now doing so under different climate conditions than they have experienced in the past few centuries. As temperature and precipitation patterns change, “transformational drought”, or drought events that can permanently and irreversibly alter ecosystems – such as forests converting to grasslands – are a growing threat. This type of drought has cascading implications, including [...]

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“Drought in Culberson County, Texas - Credit: USDA”
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Project Extension

typeTechnical Summary
valueWe propose a “Transformational Drought Science” working group to synthesize the complex and interdisciplinary science around whether and how drought may trigger a persistent transformation in ecosystems, in order to support natural resource management decisions about transformational drought impacts. Our three objectives are to: (1) build a co-production community to ensure science synthesis is useful to a decision-making process, (2) provide a co-produced national-scale science synthesis of the multiple aspects of transformation and regional (eight Regional CASCs) variations, and (3) present one or two case studies that provide scientific underpinnings for decisions around transformational drought in a regional-scale context. In addition, our work will provide product(s) (e.g., web apps, maps) that communicate the science synthesis and potential for transformational drought. Also, this work will result in a forum for managers to leverage science to determine how transformational drought affects the goals and objectives for natural resource management, and for scientists to co-produce the information needed for decision-making. We propose deep and regular interaction between this proposed Transformational Drought Science working group and a group of federal land managers including BLM, FWS, NPS, and USFS, who administer 93.5% of federal lands and are focused on navigating ecological transformation on federal lands (FedNET). In addition, we propose a Regional CASC Advisory Board to ensure we capture regional variations in drought. We will conduct a systematic synthesis with free and open source tools that apply machine learning and natural language processing algorithms to make synthesis faster, efficient, and dynamic as the literature grows. The TDS working group will also produce a deeper level of synthesized, or perhaps new science for one or two case studies that could provide scientific underpinnings for decisions around transformational drought in a regional-scale context. Specifically, we aim to (one or both) characterize the likelihood of ecological transformation after drought, and provide scenarios for potential new ecosystem states after drought.
projectStatusIn Progress

Drought in Culberson County, Texas - Credit: USDA
Drought in Culberson County, Texas - Credit: USDA


Spatial Services

ScienceBase WMS


  • Alaska CASC
  • National CASC
  • National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers
  • North Central CASC
  • Northeast CASC
  • Northwest CASC
  • Pacific Islands CASC
  • South Central CASC
  • Southeast CASC
  • Southwest CASC



Additional Information


Type Scheme Key
RegistrationUUID NCCWSC 44e0e84b-3d23-4a38-9e2d-601dc0fce277

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