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Regionalizing Africa: Patterns of Precipitation Variability in Observations and Global Climate Models

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  • 1 Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland
  • | 2 Climate and Radiation Laboratory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, and Universities Space Research Association, Columbia, Maryland
  • | 3 Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland
  • | 4 Earth Sciences Division, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
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Abstract

Many studies have documented dramatic climatic and environmental changes that have affected Africa over different time scales. These studies often raise questions regarding the spatial extent and regional connectivity of changes inferred from observations and proxies and/or derived from climate models. Objective regionalization offers a tool for addressing these questions. To demonstrate this potential, applications of hierarchical climate regionalizations of Africa using observations and GCM historical simulations and future projections are presented. First, Africa is regionalized based on interannual precipitation variability using Climate Hazards Group Infrared Precipitation with Stations (CHIRPS) data for the period 1981–2014. A number of data processing techniques and clustering algorithms are tested to ensure a robust definition of climate regions. These regionalization results highlight the seasonal and even month-to-month specificity of regional climate associations across the continent, emphasizing the need to consider time of year as well as research question when defining a coherent region for climate analysis. CHIRPS regions are then compared to those of five GCMs for the historic period, with a focus on boreal summer. Results show that some GCMs capture the climatic coherence of the Sahel and associated teleconnections in a manner that is similar to observations, while other models break the Sahel into uncorrelated subregions or produce a Sahel-like region of variability that is spatially displaced from observations. Finally, shifts in climate regions under projected twenty-first-century climate change for different GCMs and emissions pathways are examined. A projected change is found in the coherence of the Sahel, in which the western and eastern Sahel become distinct regions with different teleconnections. This pattern is most pronounced in high-emissions scenarios.

Denotes Open Access content.

Corresponding author address: Hamada S. Badr, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, 3400 N. Charles Street, Olin Hall, Baltimore, MD 21218. E-mail: badr@jhu.edu

Abstract

Many studies have documented dramatic climatic and environmental changes that have affected Africa over different time scales. These studies often raise questions regarding the spatial extent and regional connectivity of changes inferred from observations and proxies and/or derived from climate models. Objective regionalization offers a tool for addressing these questions. To demonstrate this potential, applications of hierarchical climate regionalizations of Africa using observations and GCM historical simulations and future projections are presented. First, Africa is regionalized based on interannual precipitation variability using Climate Hazards Group Infrared Precipitation with Stations (CHIRPS) data for the period 1981–2014. A number of data processing techniques and clustering algorithms are tested to ensure a robust definition of climate regions. These regionalization results highlight the seasonal and even month-to-month specificity of regional climate associations across the continent, emphasizing the need to consider time of year as well as research question when defining a coherent region for climate analysis. CHIRPS regions are then compared to those of five GCMs for the historic period, with a focus on boreal summer. Results show that some GCMs capture the climatic coherence of the Sahel and associated teleconnections in a manner that is similar to observations, while other models break the Sahel into uncorrelated subregions or produce a Sahel-like region of variability that is spatially displaced from observations. Finally, shifts in climate regions under projected twenty-first-century climate change for different GCMs and emissions pathways are examined. A projected change is found in the coherence of the Sahel, in which the western and eastern Sahel become distinct regions with different teleconnections. This pattern is most pronounced in high-emissions scenarios.

Denotes Open Access content.

Corresponding author address: Hamada S. Badr, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, 3400 N. Charles Street, Olin Hall, Baltimore, MD 21218. E-mail: badr@jhu.edu
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