Shifts in Köppen-Geiger climate zones over southern Africa in relation to key global temperature goals

Abstract

Potential changes in Köppen-Geiger climate zones over southern Africa (Africa south of 22 °S) under future climate change are investigated using an ensemble of high-resolution projections of a regional climate model. The projections are performed under the A2 scenario of the Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SRES), and changes are presented for those times in the future when the increase in global average surface temperature reaches thresholds of 1, 2, and 3 °C, relative to the present-day baseline climatology. Widespread shifts in climate regimes are projected, of which the southern and eastern expansion of the hot desert and hot steppe zones is the most prominent. From occupying 33.1 and 19.4 % of southern Africa under present-day climate, these regions are projected to occupy between 47.3 and 59.7 % (hot desert zone) and 24.9 and 29.9 % (hot steppe zone) of the region in a future world where the global temperature has increased by 3 °C. The cold desert and cold steppe zones are projected to decrease correspondingly. The temperate regions of eastern South Africa, the Cape south coast, and winter rainfall region of the southwestern Cape are also projected to contract. An expansion of the hot steppe zone into the cold steppe and temperate zones may favor the intrusion of trees (and therefore the savanna biome) into the most pristine grasslands of southern Africa. However, the correlative climate-vegetation approach of using projected changes in Köppen-Geiger zones to infer future vegetation patterns is of limited value in the savanna complex of southern Africa, where complex feedbacks occur between carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations, trees, C4 grasses, fire, and climate. The present-day temperate Cape Fynbos regime may come under increasing pressure as the encompassing temperate zone is invaded mainly from the east by the hot steppe climate regime under climate change, with the incidence of Fynbos fires also becoming more likely in a generally warmer and drier climate.

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Acknowledgments

This research was funded by the department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) in South Africa, project number 21.1.1/12/CCDM-04. The projections were generated through a Parliamentary Grant project (EECM066) at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The authors are grateful for the constructive comments from an anonymous reviewer.

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Correspondence to Christien J. Engelbrecht.

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Engelbrecht, C.J., Engelbrecht, F.A. Shifts in Köppen-Geiger climate zones over southern Africa in relation to key global temperature goals. Theor Appl Climatol 123, 247–261 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00704-014-1354-1

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Keywords

  • Regional Climate Model
  • Ensemble Member
  • Steppe Zone
  • Baseline Climate
  • Temperature World