SST versus Climate Change Signals in West African Rainfall: 20th-Century Variations and Future Projections
- Cite this article as:
- Paeth, H. & Hense, A. Climatic Change (2004) 65: 179. doi:10.1023/B:CLIM.0000037508.88115.8a
Rainfall variability is a crucial factor in food production,water resource planning and ecosystems, especially in regions with scarce freshwaterresources. In West Africa rainfall has been subject to largedecadal and interdecadal variations during the 20th century. The most prominent feature is thereduction in rainfall amount throughout the second half of the century with somerecovery at the end. Among the conceivable mechanisms, which might inducesuch low-frequency variability in West African precipitation, this study isfocussed onsea surface temperature (SST) variations and increasing greenhouse gas (GHG)concentrations. A tool is presented to distinguish between both impacts bymeans of various climate model simulations, which are found to reproduce theobserved rainfall characteristics over West Africa reasonably well.Further, a multi-model approach is usedto evaluate the expected future greenhouse signal in West African rainfall with respect to natural variability and intermodel variations.It is found that observed SST fluctuations, forcing two different atmospheric climate models, are able to reproduce the main features ofobserved decadal rainfall anomalies in the southern part of West Africathroughout the second half of the 20th century. The seasonal response to varying SST isstrongest in summer when the region is undergoing intensive monsoondynamics. Whereas both atmospheric models simulate the observeddrought tendency,following the 1960s, there is some indication that the additional GHG forcing in one model inducessome significantly different rainfall anomalies in recent years, re-initiatingeven positive anomalies relative to the climatological mean which has alsobeen observed since the 1990s. However, thisresult is still subject to model uncertainty.Coupled climate model integrations with different climate change scenariosalsopredict that precipitation, particularly over the Guinea Coast and Sahelregion, will steadily increase into the 21st century. The model-comprehensive signal isstatistically significant with respect to natural variability and modeluncertainty, suggesting that the observed recovery of yearly rainfall overparts of West Africa might actually reflect the beginning impact of risinganthropogenic GHG. The physical mechanism, linking the radiative forcing tothe monsoonal rainfall, probably works via warming of the tropicalAtlantic Ocean.