, Volume 33, Issue 4, pp 445-460
Date: 31 May 2009

The dynamics of the Indian Ocean sea surface temperature forcing of Sahel drought

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Given the pronounced warming in the Indian Ocean sea surface temperature (SST) during the second half of the twentieth century and the empirical relationship between the Indian Ocean SST and Sahel summer precipitation, we investigate the mechanisms underlying this relationship using the GFDL atmospheric model AM2.0 to simulate the equilibrium and transient response to the warming of the Indian Ocean. Equatorial wave dynamics, in particular the westward propagating equatorial Rossby waves, communicates the signal of tropospheric warming and stabilization from the Indian Ocean to the African continent. The stabilization associated with the Rossby wave front acts to suppress the convection. Feedbacks with local precipitation and depletion of moisture amplify the dynamically induced subsidence. While this stabilization mechanism is expected to operate in climate change response, the future prospects for the Sahelian climate under global warming are complicated by the intricate sensitivities to the SSTs from different ocean basins and to the direct radiative forcing of greenhouse gases.