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Regional Climate Change in Tropical and Northern Africa due to Greenhouse Forcing and Land Use Changes

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  • 1 Geographical Institute, University of Würzburg, Würzburg, Germany
  • | 2 Institute for Geophysics and Meteorology, University of Köln, Köln, Germany
  • | 3 Meteorological Institute, University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany
  • | 4 Max-Planck-Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg, Germany
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Abstract

Human activity is supposed to affect the earth’s climate mainly via two processes: the emission of greenhouse gases and aerosols and the alteration of land cover. While the former process is well established in state-of-the-art climate model simulations, less attention has been paid to the latter. However, the low latitudes appear to be particularly sensitive to land use changes, especially in tropical Africa where frequent drought episodes were observed during recent decades. Here several ensembles of long-term transient climate change experiments are presented with a regional climate model to estimate the future pathway of African climate under fairly realistic forcing conditions. Therefore, the simulations are forced with increasing greenhouse gas concentrations as well as land use changes until 2050. Three different scenarios are prescribed in order to assess the range of options inferred from global political, social, and economical development. The authors find a prominent surface heating and a weakening of the hydrological cycle over most of tropical Africa, resulting in enhanced heat stress and extended dry spells. In contrast, the large-scale atmospheric circulation in upper levels is less affected, pointing to a primarily local effect of land degradation on near-surface climate. In the model study, it turns out that land use changes are primarily responsible for the simulated climate response. In general, simulated climate changes are not concealed by internal variability. Thus, the effect of land use changes has to be accounted for when developing more realistic scenarios for future African climate.

Corresponding author address: Heiko Paeth, Geographical Institute, University of Würzburg, Am Hubland, Würzburg 97074, Germany. Email: heiko.paeth@uni-wuerzburg.de

Abstract

Human activity is supposed to affect the earth’s climate mainly via two processes: the emission of greenhouse gases and aerosols and the alteration of land cover. While the former process is well established in state-of-the-art climate model simulations, less attention has been paid to the latter. However, the low latitudes appear to be particularly sensitive to land use changes, especially in tropical Africa where frequent drought episodes were observed during recent decades. Here several ensembles of long-term transient climate change experiments are presented with a regional climate model to estimate the future pathway of African climate under fairly realistic forcing conditions. Therefore, the simulations are forced with increasing greenhouse gas concentrations as well as land use changes until 2050. Three different scenarios are prescribed in order to assess the range of options inferred from global political, social, and economical development. The authors find a prominent surface heating and a weakening of the hydrological cycle over most of tropical Africa, resulting in enhanced heat stress and extended dry spells. In contrast, the large-scale atmospheric circulation in upper levels is less affected, pointing to a primarily local effect of land degradation on near-surface climate. In the model study, it turns out that land use changes are primarily responsible for the simulated climate response. In general, simulated climate changes are not concealed by internal variability. Thus, the effect of land use changes has to be accounted for when developing more realistic scenarios for future African climate.

Corresponding author address: Heiko Paeth, Geographical Institute, University of Würzburg, Am Hubland, Würzburg 97074, Germany. Email: heiko.paeth@uni-wuerzburg.de

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