Identifying the drivers of food insecurity in the developing world

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About the Project

Throughout much of the developing world, human livelihoods are dependent on the success of rainfed agriculture and pastoral biomass for food. In these regions, precipitation (PPT), or rainfall, is a critical indicator of vegetative health and success, and so a number of methods have been developed for expressing the quantity and quality of rainfall. In addition to the amount of PPT coming into the system, there has also been increasing attention on the atmospheric demand for water. One way of capturing this is the use of potential evapotranspiration (PET), which combines temperature, humidity, solar radiation, and wind speed to estimate the amount of water which would be soaked up by the atmosphere over a given surface. Many indicators have sought to combine these factors in a meaningful way to identify deficits in available water for vegetation, and anticipate food shortages in the developing world.

However, PPT and PET are inversely related. The factors associated with rainfall (cloud cover, high humidity, latent cooling) also lead to low PET. This capstone project seeks to explore the relationship between PPT and PET in space and time. Where these factors are tightly coupled, drought events would be accompanied by increased PET, and lead to larger water deficits than might be indicated by precipitation alone. Where the relationship is less coupled, there may be independent factors driving the PET, and we will seek to understand the drivers of that independent component.

This project will work with quasi-global grids of PPT and PET from the last 40 years to explore these relationships, potentially identify drivers of both PPT and the independent component of PET, and maybe even explore developing statistical forecasts of these factors based on sea surface temperatures.


  Student Team

  • Giselle Ramirez
  • Thomas Shi
  • Alex Lim
  • Ryan Quon
  • Disha Hauzaree


  • Dr. Greg Husak, UCSB
  • Dr. Shrad Shukla, UCSB
  • Enbo Zhou, UCSB



The Climate Hazards Center is a 19-year-old alliance of multidisciplinary scientists and food security analysts from the UC Santa Barbara Geography Department, Africa, and Latin America working alongside partners in the US Geological Survey (USGS), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This cooperative is unique in its high potential for high-profile international outreach, which includes collaborations with organizations like The Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD), AGRHYMET Regional Centre, IGAD Climate Predicition and Applications Centre (ICPAC), the Southern African Development Community's (SADC) Climate Services (CSC), and the World Food Programme (WFP). .