Observed Oceanic and Terrestrial Drivers of North African Climate

Wednesday, December 16, 2015 - 11:05
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Hydrologic variability can pose a serious threat to the poverty-stricken regions of North Africa. Yet, the current understanding of oceanic versus terrestrial drivers of North African droughts/pluvials is largely model-based, with vast disagreement among models. In order to identify the observed drivers of North African climate and develop a benchmark for model evaluations, the multivariate Generalized Equilibrium Feedback Assessment (GEFA) is applied to observations, remotely sensed data, and reanalysis products.The identified primary oceanic drivers of North African rainfall variability are the Atlantic, tropical Indian, and tropical Pacific Oceans and Mediterranean Sea. During the summer monsoon, positive tropical eastern Atlantic sea-surface temperature (SST) anomalies are associated with a southward shift of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone, enhanced ocean evaporation, and greater precipitable water across coastal West Africa, leading to increased West African monsoon (WAM) rainfall and decreased Sahel rainfall. During the short rains, positive SST anomalies in the western tropical Indian Ocean and negative anomalies in the eastern tropical Indian Ocean support greater easterly oceanic flow, evaporation over the western ocean, and moisture advection to East Africa, thereby enhancing rainfall.The sign, magnitude, and timing of observed vegetation forcing on rainfall vary across North Africa. The positive feedback of leaf area index (LAI) on rainfall is greatest during DJF for the Horn of Africa, while it peaks in autumn and is weakest during the summer monsoon for the Sahel. Across the WAM region, a positive LAI anomaly supports an earlier monsoon onset, increased rainfall during the pre-monsoon, and decreased rainfall during the wet season. Through unique mechanisms, positive LAI anomalies favor enhanced transpiration, precipitable water, and rainfall across the Sahel and Horn of Africa, and increased roughness, ascent, and rainfall across the WAM region.The current study represents the first attempt to separate the observed roles of oceanic and vegetation feedbacks across North Africa, and provides observational benchmark for model evaluation.