Climatic Change

, Volume 54, Issue 1, pp 181-204

First online:

Land Cover, Rainfall and Land-Surface Albedo in West Africa

  • Douglas O. FullerAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, The George Washington University
  • , Christian OttkeAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, The George Washington University

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Land surface albedo is an important variable in General Circulation Models (GCMs). When land cover is modified through anthropogenic land use, changes in land-surface albedo may produce atmospheric subsidence and reduction of rainfall. In this study we examined albedo time series and their relationships with rainfall, land cover, and population in West Africa. This particular region was selected because it has become a focal point in debates over biophysical impacts of desertification and deforestation. Our analyses revealed that albedo and rainfall were related only modestly at short time scales (monthly and annual) and that mean annual albedo values remained relatively stable from 1982–1989 over a widerange of climatic and vegetation zones in West Africa. The relationship between long-term mean rainfall and mean albedo was strong and curvilinear(r2 = 0.802). The same was true for the relationship betweenpercent tree cover and mean albedo (r2 = 0.659). These results suggest that long-term climate patterns, which control vegetation type and canopy structure, have greater influence on albedo than short-term fluctuations in rainfall. Our results reinforce other recent studies based on satellite data that have questioned the extent and pervasiveness of desertification in West Africa.