, Volume 28, Issue 7-8, pp 723-742
Date: 20 Dec 2006

Soil moisture memory and West African monsoon predictability: artefact or reality?

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Abstract

Besides sea surface temperature (SST), soil moisture (SM) exhibits a significant memory and is likely to contribute to atmospheric predictability at the seasonal timescale. In this respect, West Africa was recently highlighted as a “hot spot” where the land–atmosphere coupling could play an important role, through the recycling of precipitation and the modulation of the meridional gradient of moist static energy. Particularly intriguing is the observed relationship between summer monsoon rainfall over Sahel and the previous second rainy season over the Guinean Coast, suggesting the possibility of a soil moisture memory beyond the seasonal timescale. The present study is aimed at revisiting this question through a detailed analysis of the instrumental record and a set of numerical sensitivity experiments. Three ensembles of global atmospheric simulations have been designed to assess the relative influence of SST and SM boundary conditions on the West African monsoon predictability over the 1986–1995 period. On the one hand, the results indicate that SM contributes to rainfall predictability at the end and just after the rainy season over the Sahel, through a positive soil-precipitation feedback that is consistent with the “hot spot” hypothesis. On the other hand, SM memory decreases very rapidly during the dry season and does not contribute to the predictability of the all-summer monsoon rainfall. Though possibly model dependent, this conclusion is reinforced by the statistical analysis of the summer monsoon rainfall variability over the Sahel and its link with tropical SSTs. Our results indeed suggest that the apparent relationship with the previous second rainy season over the Guinean Coast is mainly an artefact of rainfall teleconnections with tropical modes of SST variability both at interannual and multi-decadal timescales.