Review of In-Situ and Remote Sensing-Based Indices and Their Applicability for Integrated Drought Monitoring in South Africa



Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Publication Title

Water (Switzerland)






GRACE, multivariate drought indices, PDSI, SGI, SPEI, SPI, SSI, SWSI, VCI


The devastating socioeconomic impacts of recent droughts have intensified the need for improved drought monitoring in South Africa (SA). This study has shown that not all indices can be universally applicable at all regions worldwide, and there is no single index that can represent all aspects of droughts. The aim of this study was to review the performance and applicability of the Palmer drought severity index (PDSI), surface water supply index (SWSI), vegetation condition index (VCI), standardised precipitation index (SPI), standardised precipitation evapotranspiration index (SPEI), standardised streamflow index (SSI), standardised groundwater index (SGI), and GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment)-based drought indices in SA and provide guidelines for selecting feasible candidates for integrated drought monitoring. The review is based on the ‘2016 World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) Handbook of Drought Indicators and Indices’ guidelines. The PDSI and SWSI are not feasible in SA, mainly because they are relatively complex to compute and interpret and cannot use readily available and accessible data. Combining the SPI, SPEI, VCI, SSI, and SGI using multi-index or hybrid methods is recommended. Hence, with best fitting probability distribution functions (PDFs) used, and with an informed choice between parametric and non-parametric approaches, this combination has the potential for integrated drought monitoring. Due to the scarcity of groundwater data, investigations on the use of GRACE-based groundwater drought indices must be carried out. These findings may contribute to improved drought early warning and monitoring in SA.

Open Access