, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 75-94
Date: 19 Mar 2009

Twentieth century Sahel rainfall variability as simulated by the ARPEGE AGCM, and future changes

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The ability of the ARPEGE AGCM in reproducing the twentieth century Sahelian drought when only forced by observed SST time evolution has been characterized. Atmospheric internal variability is shown to have a strong contribution in driving the simulated precipitation variability over the Sahel at decadal to multi-decadal time scales. The simulated drought is associated with a southward shift of the continental rainbelt over central and eastern Sahel, associated with an inter-hemispheric SST mode (the southern hemisphere oceans warming faster than the northern ones after 1970). The analysis of idealized experiments further highlights the importance of the Pacific basin. The related increase of the tropospheric temperature (TT) over the tropics is then suggested to dry the margin of convection zones over Africa, in agreement with the so-called “upped-ante” mechanism. A simple metric is then defined to determine the ability of the CMIP3 coupled models in reproducing both the observed Sahel drying and these mechanisms, in order to determine the reliability of the twenty-first century scenarios. Only one model reproduces both the observed drought over the Sahel and consistent SST/TT relationships over the second half of the twentieth century. This model predicts enhanced dry conditions over the Sahel at the end of the twenty-first century. However, as the mechanisms highlighted here for the recent period are not stationary during the twenty-first century when considering the trends, similarities between observed and simulated features of the West African monsoon for the twentieth century are a necessary but insufficient condition for a trustworthy prediction of the future.

This paper is a contribution to the special issue on West African Climate, consisting of papers from the African Multidisciplinary Monsoon Analysis (AMMA) and West African Monsoon Modeling and Evaluation (WAMME) projects, and coordinated by Y. Xue and P. M. Ruti.