Persistent drought events frequently intensify the aridity of ecosystems and cause catchment runoff depletion. Here, using large and long-term data sets of meteorological and hydrologic variables (precipitation, runoff, temperature, and potential evapotranspiration) investigated the major causes that modulated catchment runoff depletion between years 1980 and 2020 in southern-central Chile. We identify the hydrological years where aridity index intensified and analyzed its relationship with annual runoff, and evaluated the effect of the annual evaporation index and annual aridity index on water balance of 44 catchments with different precipitation regimes located between 35° and 40°S. Our results showed that observed precipitation and runoff significantly decreased between 1980 and 2020 in 64% of the catchments in the study area. Potential evapotranspiration increased significantly in 39% of the catchments. Hydrological years in which precipitation decreased, showed a decreased runoff trend. This result suggests that meteorological droughts tend to significantly decrease observed runoff. The runoff value decreased as the aridity index increased from 0.3 to 6.7, and the Budyko curve captured 98.5% of the annual variability of all catchments.

  • Significant contrast in aridity in response to decreased precipitation. Consecutive droughts lead to a moderate runoff deficit and a higher aridity index.

  • Extreme aridity index over 6.5, PET far exceeds mean annual Q and P.

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