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Christopher M. Taylor
,
Eric F. Lambin
,
Nathalie Stephenne
,
Richard J. Harding
, and
Richard L. H. Essery

Abstract

A number of general circulation model (GCM) experiments have shown that changes in vegetation in the Sahel can cause substantial reductions in rainfall. In some studies, the climate sensitivity is large enough to trigger drought of the severity observed since the late 1960s. The extent and intensity of vegetation changes are crucial in determining the magnitude of the atmospheric response in the models. However, there is no accurate historical record of regional vegetation changes extending back to before the drought began. One important driver of vegetation change is land use practice. In this paper the hypothesis that recent changes in land use have been large enough to cause the observed drought is tested. Results from a detailed land use model are used to generate realistic maps of vegetation changes linked to land use. The land use model suggests that cropland coverage in the Sahel has risen from 5% to 14% in the 35 yr prior to 1996. It is estimated that this process of agricultural extensification, coupled with deforestation and other land use changes, translates to a conversion of 4% of the land from tree cover to bare soil over this period. The model predicts further changes in the composition of the land surface by 2015 based on changes in human population (rural and urban), livestock population, rainfall, cereals imports, and farming systems.

The impact of land use change on Sahelian climate is assessed using a GCM, forced by the estimates of land use in 1961, 1996, and 2015. Relative to 1961 conditions, simulated rainfall decreases by 4.6% (1996) and 8.7% (2015). The decreases are closely linked to a later onset of the wet season core during July. Once the wet season is well developed, however, the sensitivity of total rainfall to the land surface is greatly reduced, and depends on the sensitivity of synoptic disturbances to the land surface. The results suggest that while the climate of the region is rather sensitive to small changes in albedo and leaf area index, recent historical land use changes are not large enough to have been the principal cause of the Sahel drought. However, the climatic impacts of land use change in the region are likely to increase rapidly in the coming years.

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Douglas B. Clark
,
Yongkang Xue
,
Richard J. Harding
, and
Paul J. Valdes

Abstract

Degradation of the land surface has been suggested as a cause of persistent drought in tropical north Africa. A general circulation model is used to assess the impact of degradation of five regions within tropical north Africa. Idealized degradation scenarios are used since existing observations are inadequate to determine the extent and severity of historical degradation. It is found that the impact of degradation varies between the regions. The greatest effects are found from degradation of the Sahel or West Africa, which result in substantial reduction of precipitation over the degraded area. Both surface evaporation and atmospheric moisture convergence are reduced. In the Sahelian case the precipitation reduction extends well to the south of the area of changed land surface. The occurrence of easterly wave disturbances is not altered by degradation, but the mean rainfall from each event is reduced. Degradation of an area in eastern north Africa results in smaller reductions of precipitation and moisture convergence. Finally, degradation of a southern area next to the Gulf of Guinea has little effect on precipitation because of a compensatory increase of moisture convergence. The simulated rainfall reduction following degradation of the Sahel is comparable to observed changes in recent decades, suggesting that degradation may have contributed to that change.

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Richard Harding
,
Martin Best
,
Eleanor Blyth
,
Stefan Hagemann
,
Pavel Kabat
,
Lena M. Tallaksen
,
Tanya Warnaars
,
David Wiberg
,
Graham P. Weedon
,
Henny van Lanen
,
Fulco Ludwig
, and
Ingjerd Haddeland

Abstract

Water-related impacts are among the most important consequences of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. Changes in the global water cycle will also impact the carbon and nutrient cycles and vegetation patterns. There is already some evidence of increasing severity of floods and droughts and increasing water scarcity linked to increasing greenhouse gases. So far, however, the most important impacts on water resources are the direct interventions by humans, such as dams, water extractions, and river channel modifications. The Water and Global Change (WATCH) project is a major international initiative to bring together climate and water scientists to better understand the current and future water cycle. This paper summarizes the underlying motivation for the WATCH project and the major results from a series of papers published or soon to be published in the Journal of Hydrometeorology WATCH special collection. At its core is the Water Model Intercomparison Project (WaterMIP), which brings together a wide range of global hydrological and land surface models run with consistent driving data. It is clear that we still have considerable uncertainties in the future climate drivers and in how the river systems will respond to these changes. There is a grand challenge to the hydrological and climate communities to both reduce these uncertainties and communicate them to a wider society.

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Ingjerd Haddeland
,
Douglas B. Clark
,
Wietse Franssen
,
Fulco Ludwig
,
Frank Voß
,
Nigel W. Arnell
,
Nathalie Bertrand
,
Martin Best
,
Sonja Folwell
,
Dieter Gerten
,
Sandra Gomes
,
Simon N. Gosling
,
Stefan Hagemann
,
Naota Hanasaki
,
Richard Harding
,
Jens Heinke
,
Pavel Kabat
,
Sujan Koirala
,
Taikan Oki
,
Jan Polcher
,
Tobias Stacke
,
Pedro Viterbo
,
Graham P. Weedon
, and
Pat Yeh

Abstract

Six land surface models and five global hydrological models participate in a model intercomparison project [Water Model Intercomparison Project (WaterMIP)], which for the first time compares simulation results of these different classes of models in a consistent way. In this paper, the simulation setup is described and aspects of the multimodel global terrestrial water balance are presented. All models were run at 0.5° spatial resolution for the global land areas for a 15-yr period (1985–99) using a newly developed global meteorological dataset. Simulated global terrestrial evapotranspiration, excluding Greenland and Antarctica, ranges from 415 to 586 mm yr−1 (from 60 000 to 85 000 km3 yr−1), and simulated runoff ranges from 290 to 457 mm yr−1 (from 42 000 to 66 000 km3 yr−1). Both the mean and median runoff fractions for the land surface models are lower than those of the global hydrological models, although the range is wider. Significant simulation differences between land surface and global hydrological models are found to be caused by the snow scheme employed. The physically based energy balance approach used by land surface models generally results in lower snow water equivalent values than the conceptual degree-day approach used by global hydrological models. Some differences in simulated runoff and evapotranspiration are explained by model parameterizations, although the processes included and parameterizations used are not distinct to either land surface models or global hydrological models. The results show that differences between models are a major source of uncertainty. Climate change impact studies thus need to use not only multiple climate models but also some other measure of uncertainty (e.g., multiple impact models).

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