, Volume 52, Issue 3, pp 263-286

The Challenges of Modeling Climate Variability and Change in West Africa

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Abstract

This paper overviews observations and examines modeling issues associated with the mean state, climate variability and climate change in West Africa. The Tropical Rain Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite allows for the first time estimates of Unconditional, Convective and Stratiform rain rates in West Africa. The 1998 estimated TRMM rates are compared to long-term observed rain rates and a merged rain data set (CMAP) during 1998. Further, the TRMM estimates are compared to the simulated rain rates from the Community Climate Model Version 3.6. The TRMM Precipitation Radar rain estimates are generally lower than either the long-term observations or the CMAP rates during 1998. Moreover, the TRMM rain estimates show a significant fraction of the total rain (convective + stratiform) is characterized as stratiform rain (30–40%). The CCM3 simulates primarily convective rain and negligible amounts of non-convective rain for West Africa. Furthermore, the TRMM high-resolution rain patterns strongly imply that rain in West Africa occurs on mesoscales in association with mesoscale convective systems (squall lines, mesoscale convective complexes and non-squall tropical clusters). We demonstrate this by briefly examining two mesoscale convective systems during May 1998 with METEOSAT data. Regional climate models may offer the best solution to understanding climate change in West Africa because of their ability to capture mesoscale systems and better their representation of orographic features. Adequate boundary conditions from Global Climate Models are still necessary for regional climate model simulations to successfully reproduce mean climate conditions and provide understanding with respect to future climate change. Observations in West Africa should be maintained or increased for monitoring climate variability and possibility of climate change in West Africa, proper initialization of numerical weather prediction models and the validation of climate models.