Future climate changes could alter hydrometeorological patterns and change the nature of droughts at global to regional scales. However, there are considerable uncertainties in future drought projections. Here, we focus on agricultural drought by analyzing surface soil moisture outputs from CMIP5 multi-model ensembles (MMEs) under RCP2.6, RCP4.5, RCP6.0, and RCP8.5 scenarios. First, the annual mean soil moisture by the end of the 21st century shows statistically significant large-scale drying and limited areas of wetting for all scenarios, with stronger drying as the strength of radiative forcing increases. Second, the MME mean spatial extent of severe drought is projected to increase for all regions and all future RCP scenarios, and most notably in Central America (CAM), Europe and Mediterranean (EUM), Tropical South America (TSA), and South Africa (SAF). Third, the model uncertainty presents the largest source of uncertainty (over 80%) across the entire 21st century among the three sources of uncertainty: internal variability, model uncertainty, and scenario uncertainty. Finally, we find that the spatial pattern and magnitude of annual and seasonal signal to noise (S/N) in soil moisture anomalies do not change significantly by lead time, indicating that the spreads of uncertainties become larger as the signals become stronger.
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