Sahel rainfall and decadal to multi-decadal sea surface temperature variability
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- Mohino, E., Janicot, S. & Bader, J. Clim Dyn (2011) 37: 419. doi:10.1007/s00382-010-0867-2
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Decadal Sahelian rainfall variability was mainly driven by sea surface temperatures (SSTs) during the twentieth century. At the same time SSTs showed a marked long-term global warming (GW) trend. Superimposed on this long-term trend decadal and multi-decadal variability patterns are observed like the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) and the inter-decadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO). Using an atmospheric general circulation model we investigate the relative contribution of each component to the Sahelian precipitation variability. To take into account the uncertainty related to the use of different SST data sets, we perform the experiments using HadISST1 and ERSSTv3 reconstructed sets. The simulations show that all three SST signals have a significant impact over West Africa: the positive phases of the GW and the IPO lead to drought over the Sahel, while a positive AMO enhances Sahel rainfall. The tropical SST warming is the main cause for the GW impact on Sahel rainfall. Regarding the AMO, the pattern of anomalous precipitation is established by the SSTs in the Atlantic and Mediterranean basins. In turn, the tropical SST anomalies control the impact of the IPO component on West Africa. Our results suggest that the low-frequency evolution of Sahel rainfall can be interpreted as the competition of three factors: the effect of the GW, the AMO and the IPO. Following this interpretation, our results show that 50% of the SST-driven Sahel drought in the 1980s is explained by the change to a negative phase of the AMO, and that the GW contribution was 10%. In addition, the partial recovery of Sahel rainfall in recent years was mainly driven by the AMO.