, Volume 107, Issue 3-4, pp 109-122
Date: 14 Jul 2010

Impact of vegetation changes on a mesoscale convective system in West Africa

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Abstract

The evolution of precipitating convective systems in West Africa has been a research topic throughout the past three decades and is considered to be influenced by surface–atmosphere interactions. This study builds on the previous research by examining the sensitivity of a mesoscale convective system (MCS) to a change in the vegetation cover by using a regional atmospheric model with a high horizontal resolution. Vegetation cover values in the region between 10 and 15°N have increased by 10–30% over the last 20 years. The effect of both an increase and a decrease in vegetation cover by 10, 20 and 30% is investigated. The MCS case selected occurred on 11 June 2006 and was observed during the African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analysis field campaign in Dano, Burkina Faso. The model is able to reproduce the most important characteristics of the MCS and the atmospheric environment. For the investigated case, no clear precipitation response of the MCS to the applied vegetation scenarios is found. The vegetation changes do alter the surface fluxes in the days before the MCS arrives, which have a clear effect on the modelled convective available potential energy (CAPE) values. However, a link between CAPE, mesoscale circulation and rainfall amounts could not be demonstrated as a dynamical mechanism is found to counteract the CAPE signal. By using a kilometre-scale model, a change in the cold pool dynamics of the MCS could be detected which results from alterations in boundary layer moisture. The effect of vegetation changes on the MCS is thus not straightforward and a complex interaction between different processes should be taken into account.