Hydro-Climatic Variability and Change in Central America : Supporting Risk Reduction Through Improved Analyses and Data

Abstract: Floods and droughts are frequent in Central America and cause large social, economic and environmental impacts. A crucial step in disaster risk reduction is to have a good understanding of the causing mechanisms of extreme events and their spatio-temporal characteristics. For this, a key aspect is access to a dense network of long and good-quality hydro-meteorological data. Unfortunately, such ideal data are sparse or non-existent in Central America. In addition, the existing methods for hydro-climatic studies need to be revised and/or improved to find the most suitable for the region’s climate, geography and hydro-climatic data situation. This work has the ultimate goal to support the reduction of risks associated with hydro-climatic-induced disasters in Central America. This was sought by developing ways to reduce data-related uncertainties and by improving the available methods to study and understand hydro-climatic variability processes. In terms of data-uncertainty reduction, this thesis includes the development of a high resolution air temperature dataset and a methodology to reduce uncertainties in a hydrological model at ungauged basins. The dataset was able to capture the spatial patterns with a detail not available with existing datasets. The methodology significantly reduced uncertainties in an assumed-to-be ungauged catchment. In terms of methodological improvements, this thesis includes an assessment of the most suitable combination of (available) meteorological datasets and drought indices to characterise droughts in Central America. In addition, a methodology was developed to analyse drought propagation in a tropical catchment, in an automated, objective way. Results from the assessment and the drought propagation analysis contributed with improving the understanding of drought patterns and generating processes in the region. Finally, a methodology was proposed for assessing changes in both hydrological extremes in a consistent way. This contrasts with most commonly used frameworks that study each extreme individually. The method provides important characteristics (frequency, duration and magnitude), information that can be useful for decisions within risk reduction and water management. The results presented in this thesis are a contribution, in terms of hydro-climatic data and assessment methods, for supporting risk reduction of disasters related with hydro-climatic extremes in Central America.