Climatic Change

, Volume 138, Issue 1–2, pp 111–125 | Cite as

The El Niño – La Niña cycle and recent trends in supply and demand of net primary productivity in African drylands

  • A. M. AbdiEmail author
  • A. Vrieling
  • G. T. Yengoh
  • A. Anyamba
  • J. W. Seaquist
  • C. C. Ummenhofer
  • J. Ardö


Inter-annual climatic variability over a large portion of sub-Saharan Africa is under the influence of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Extreme variability in climate is a threat to rural livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa, yet the role of ENSO in the balance between supply and demand of net primary productivity (NPP) over this region is unclear. Here, we analyze the impact of ENSO on this balance in a spatially explicit framework using gridded population data from the WorldPop project, satellite-derived data on NPP supply, and statistical data from the United Nations. Our analyses demonstrate that between 2000 and 2013 fluctuations in the supply of NPP associated with moderate ENSO events average ± 2.8 g C m−2 yr.−1 across sub-Saharan drylands. The greatest sensitivity is in arid Southern Africa where a + 1 °C change in the Niño-3.4 sea surface temperature index is associated with a mean change in NPP supply of −6.6 g C m−2 yr.−1. Concurrently, the population-driven trend in NPP demand averages 3.5 g C m−2 yr.−1 over the entire region with densely populated urban areas exhibiting the highest mean demand for NPP. Our findings highlight the importance of accounting for the role ENSO plays in modulating the balance between supply and demand of NPP in sub-Saharan drylands. An important implication of these findings is that increase in NPP demand for socio-economic metabolism must be taken into account within the context of climate-modulated supply.


Sub-Saharan Africa Drylands El Niño-southern oscillation Net primary productivity Climate variability 



We thank Dan Metcalfe, Lina Eklund, A.J. (Han) Dolman, and Katharina Waha for their insight and comments during early stages of the manuscript. We also thank the programming assistance provided by the volunteers at the Stack Overflow and Cross Validated online communities. Funding for this project was provided by the Swedish National Space Board (contract no. 100/11 to J.A.). A.M.A. received support from the Royal Physiographic Society in Lund and the Lund University Center for Studies of Carbon Cycle and Climate Interactions (LUCCI). C.C.U. was supported by NSF grant OCE-1203892.

Supplementary material

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ESM 1 (DOCX 1906 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. M. Abdi
    • 1
    Email author
  • A. Vrieling
    • 2
  • G. T. Yengoh
    • 3
  • A. Anyamba
    • 4
  • J. W. Seaquist
    • 1
  • C. C. Ummenhofer
    • 5
  • J. Ardö
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem ScienceLund UniversityLundSweden
  2. 2.Faculty of Geo-information Science and Earth ObservationUniversity of TwenteEnschedeThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Lund University Center for Sustainability StudiesLundSweden
  4. 4.Goddard Space Flight Center, Biospheric Sciences LaboratoryNational Aeronautics and Space AdministrationGreenbeltUSA
  5. 5.Department of Physical OceanographyWoods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionWoods HoleUSA

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