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Benjamin Sultan and Serge Janicot

Abstract

The arrival of the summer monsoon over West Africa has been documented by using daily gridded rainfall data and NCEP–NCAR reanalyses during the period 1968–90, and OLR data over the period 1979–90. Two steps have been characterized through a composite approach: the preonset and the onset of the summer monsoon.

The preonset stage corresponds to the arrival in the intertropical front (ITF) at 15°N, that is, the confluence line between moist southwesterly monsoon winds and dry northeasterly Harmattan, bringing sufficient moisture for isolated convective systems to develop in the Sudano–Sahelian zone while the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) is centered at 5°N. The mean date for the preonset occurrence is 14 May and its standard deviation is 9.5 days during the period 1968–90. This leads to a first clear increase of the positive rainfall slope corresponding to the beginning of the rainy season over this Sudano–Sahelian area.

The onset stage of the summer monsoon over West Africa is linked to an abrupt latitudinal shift of the ITCZ from a quasi-stationary location at 5°N in May–June to another quasi-stationary location at 10°N in July–August. The mean date for the onset occurrence is 24 June and its standard deviation is 8 days during the period 1968–90. This leads to a second increase of the positive rainfall slope over the Sudano–Sahelian zone signing the northernmost location of the ITCZ and the beginning of the monsoon season. This abrupt shift occurs mostly between 10°W and 5°E, where a meridional land–sea contrast exists, and it is characterized by a temporary rainfall and convection decrease over West Africa. Preonset dates, onset dates, and summer rainfall amount over the Sahel are uncorrelated during the period 1968–90.

The atmospheric dynamics associated with the abrupt ITCZ shift has been investigated. Between the preonset and the onset stages, the heat low dynamics associated with the ITF controls the circulation in the low and midlevels. Its meridional circulation intensity is the highest at the beginning of the monsoon onset. This can lead to 1) increased convective inhibition in the ITCZ through intrusion of dry and subsiding air from the north, and 2) increased potential instability through a greater inland moisture advection and a higher monsoon depth induced by a stronger cyclonic circulation in the low levels, through higher vertical wind shear due to westerly monsoon wind and midlevel African easterly jet (AEJ) increases, through enhancement of the instability character of the AEJ, and through increased shortwave radiation received at the surface. During the monsoon onset, once the rainfall minimum occurred due to the convective inhibition, the accumulated potential instability breaks the convective inhibition, the inertial instability of the monsoon circulation is released, and the associated regional-scale circulation increases, leading to the abrupt shift of the ITCZ. Then the ITCZ moves north up to 10°N, where thermodynamical conditions are favorable.

It is suggested by the authors that the abrupt shift of the ITCZ, initiated by the amplification of the heat low dynamics, could be due to an interaction with the northern orography of the Atlas–Ahaggar Mountains. Subsidence over and north of this orography, due to both the northern branches of the heat low and of the northern Hadley-type cell, contributes to enhance the high geopotentials north of these mountains and the associated northeasterly winds. This leads to the development of a leeward trough that reinforces the heat low dynamics, maintaining an active convective ITCZ through enhanced moist air advection from the ocean, increasing the northern Hadley circulation, which reinforces the high geopotentials and the interaction with the orography through a positive feedback. The fact that an abrupt shift of the ITCZ is only observed on the western part of West Africa may result from the enhancement of moisture advection, which comes from the west and has a stronger impact west of the Greenwich meridian.

The northwest–southeast orientation of the Atlas–Ahaggar crest can induce the interaction with the heat low, first in the east where the mountains are nearer to the ITF than in the west, and second in the west. Another consequence of the possible orography-induced interaction with the atmospheric circulation is that the induced leeward trough, increasing the cyclonic vorticity in the heat low, may stimulate moisture convergence in the oceanic ITCZ near the western coast of West Africa.

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Benjamin Sultan, Serge Janicot, and Cyrille Correia

Abstract

The variability of the West African monsoon on the intraseasonal time scale is a major issue for agricultural strategy, as the occurrence of dry spells can strongly impact yields of rain-fed crops. This study investigates this intraseasonal variability of rainfall over West Africa and gives a first overview of its predictability at a medium lead time.

A statistical method, the singular spectrum analysis, is applied to a ground-based rainfall index in West Africa to describe first temporal patterns of the main leading modes of intraseasonal variability. The results point out the existence of one oscillatory mode of 34 days, one of 20 days, and one of 14 days. The same methodology is applied to rainfall from two reanalysis datasets and to deep convection from satellite data in order to assess the accuracy of the representation of intraseasonal variability in these datasets. It is shown that although the day-to-day variability of rainfall is not well captured in these datasets, intraseasonal features and, in particular, the low-frequency mode are very well reproduced.

The medium lead-time predictability (5–10 days) of the intraseasonal modes is investigated using both the dynamical forecast scheme of the ECMWF and a statistical method, the maximum entropy method. For the latter method, an operational application using unfiltered input data is also considered. The performance of these prediction schemes is compared using a simple reference technique in which forecasts are based entirely on persistence. It is found that statistical predictions are much more promising than the dynamical ones, though they encounter problems when applied operationally. In an operational application, the forecast skill for the 10–90-day intraseasonal band is low but the predictability of individual intraseasonal modes is higher. The stability of the forecast skill levels is influenced by the characteristics of the intraseasonal mode. When the characteristics (i.e., amplitude and period) of the considered intraseasonal mode are well defined, skillful forecasts can be obtained. However, when the characteristics change rapidly, the forecast fails.

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Benjamin Sultan, Serge Janicot, and Philippe Drobinski

Abstract

This study investigates the diurnal cycle of the West African monsoon and its seasonal modulation with particular focus on the monsoon onset period. A composite analysis around the monsoon onset date is applied to the 1979–2000 NCEP–DOE reanalysis and 40-yr ECMWF Re-Analysis (ERA-40) at 0000, 0600, 1200, and 1800 UTC. This study points out two independent modes describing the space–time variability of the diurnal cycle of low-level wind and temperature. While the first mode appears to belong to a gradual and seasonal pattern linked with the northward migration of the whole monsoon system, the second mode is characterized by more rapid time variations with a peak of both temperature and wind anomalies around the monsoon onset date. This latter mode is connected with the time pattern of a nocturnal jet reaching its highest values around the onset date.

The diurnal cycle of dry and deep convection is also investigated through the same method. A distinct diurnal cycle of deep convection in the ITCZ is evidenced with a peak at 1200 UTC before the monsoon onset, and at 1800 UTC after the monsoon onset. Strong ascending motions associated with deep convection may generate a gravity wave that propagates northward and reaches the Saharan heat low region 12 h later. The diurnal cycle of the dry convection in the Saharan heat low is similar during the preonset and the postonset periods with a peak at night (0000 UTC) consistent with the nocturnal jet intensification. This convection is localized at 15° and 20°N before and after the monsoon onset, respectively. Both during the first rainy season in spring and the monsoon season in summer, the nocturnal jet brings moisture in the boundary layer north of the ITCZ favoring humidification and initiation of new convective cells, helping the northward progression of the ITCZ. At the end of the summer the southward return of the ITCZ is associated with the disappearance of the core of the monsoon jet.

Despite a lot of similarities between the results obtained using NCEP–DOE and ERA-40 reanalyses, giving confidence in the significance of these results, some differences are identified, especially in the diurnal cycle of deep convection, which limit the interpretation of some of these results and highlight discrepancies in the reanalyses.

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Alexis Berg, Philippe Quirion, and Benjamin Sultan

Abstract

By using a detailed agricultural and climate dataset over Burkina-Faso and simple assumptions regarding the form of an insurance contract, the authors investigate the potential economic efficiency for farmers of a weather-index insurance system in this country. To do so, the results of more than 3000 simulated contracts applied to 30 districts, 21 yr (1984–2004), and five crops (cotton, millet, sorghum, maize, and groundnut) are explored. It is found that such an insurance system, even based on a simple weather index like cumulative rainfall during the rainy season, can present a significant economic efficiency for some crops and districts. The determinants of the efficiency of such contracts are analyzed in terms of yield/index correlations and yield variability. As a consequence of these two main determinants, the farmer’s gain from an insurance contract is higher in the driest part of the country. In the same way, maize and groundnuts are the most suitable to implement an insurance system since their respective yields show a large variance and a generally high correlation with the weather index. However, the implementation of a real weather-index insurance system in West Africa raises a number of key practical issues related to cultural, economic, and institutional aspects.

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Benjamin Sultan, Serge Janicot, and Arona Diedhiou

Abstract

Intraseasonal variability in the West African monsoon is documented by using daily gridded datasets of rainfall and convection, and reanalyzed atmospheric fields, over the period 1968–90. Rainfall and convection over West Africa are significantly modulated at two intraseasonal timescales, 10–25 and 25–60 day, leading to variations of more than 30% of the seasonal signal. A composite analysis based on the dates of the maximum (minimum) of a regional rainfall index in wet (dry) sequences shows that these sequences last, on average, 9 days and belong to a main quasiperiodic signal of about 15 days. A secondary periodicity of 38 days is present but leads to a weaker modulation. During a wet (dry) sequence, convection in the ITCZ is enhanced (weakened) and its northern boundary moves to the north (south), while the speed of the African easterly jet decreases (increases), the speed of the tropical easterly jet increases (decreases), and the monsoon flow becomes stronger (weaker), all these features being similar to the ones associated with interannual variability characterizing wet and dry years.

This modulation of convection at intraseasonal timescales is not limited to West Africa but corresponds to a westward-propagating signal from eastern Africa to the western tropical Atlantic. An enhanced monsoon phase is associated with stronger cyclonic activity in the low levels over the Sahel associated with stronger moisture advection over West Africa. Five days before the full development of the wet phase, a stronger cyclonic circulation at 20°E induces enhanced southerly winds along 25°E where convection enhances, while another westward-propagating cyclonic circulation is located at 0°. This atmospheric pattern is linked to the enhancement of the subsiding branch of the northern Hadley cell at 35°N, northerly advection of drier air over West Africa, and to increased dry convection in the heat low at 20°N. It propagates westward, leading to a zonally extended area of enhanced monsoon winds over West Africa consistent with the occurrence of the wet phase.

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Henning W. Rust, Mathieu Vrac, Benjamin Sultan, and Matthieu Lengaigne

Abstract

Senegal is particularly vulnerable to precipitation variability. To investigate the influence of large-scale circulation on local-scale precipitation, a full spatial–statistical description of precipitation occurrence and amount for Senegal is developed. These regression-type models have been built on the basis of daily records at 137 locations and were developed in two stages: (i) a baseline model describing the expected daily occurrence probability and precipitation amount as spatial fields from monsoon onset to offset, and (ii) the inclusion of weather types defined from the NCEP–NCAR reanalysis 850-hPa winds and 925-hPa relative humidity establishing the link to the synoptic-scale atmospheric circulation. During peak phase, the resulting types appear in two main cycles that can be linked to passing African easterly waves. The models allow the investigation of the spatial response of precipitation occurrence and amount to a discrete set of preferred states of the atmospheric circulation. As such, they can be used for drought risk mapping and the downscaling of climate change projections.

Necessary choices, such as filtering and scaling of the atmospheric data (as well as the number of weather types to be used), have been made on the basis of the precipitation models' performance instead of relying on external criteria. It could be demonstrated that the inclusion of the synoptic-scale weather types lead to skill on the local and daily scale. On the interannual scale, the models for precipitation occurrence and amount capture 26% and 38% of the interannual spatially averaged variability, corresponding to Pearson correlation coefficients of rO = 0.52 and ri = 0.65, respectively.

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Henning W. Rust, Mathieu Vrac, Matthieu Lengaigne, and Benjamin Sultan

Abstract

The comparison of circulation patterns (CPs) obtained from reanalysis data to those from general circulation model (GCM) simulations is a frequent task for model validation, downscaling of GCM simulations, or other climate change–related studies. Here, the authors suggest a set of measures to quantify the differences between CPs. A combination of clustering using Gaussian mixture models with a set of related difference measures allows for taking cluster size and shape information into account and thus provides more information than the Euclidean distances between cluster centroids. The characteristics of the various distance measures are illustrated with a simple simulated example. Subsequently, a five-component Gaussian mixture to define circulation patterns for the North Atlantic region from reanalysis data and GCM simulations is used. CPs are obtained independently for the NCEP–NCAR reanalysis and the 40-yr European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) Re-Analysis (ERA-40), as well as for twentieth-century simulations from 14 GCMs of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) database. After discussing the difference of CPs based on spherical and nonspherical clusters for the reanalysis datasets, the authors give a detailed evaluation of the cluster configuration for two GCMs relative to NCEP–NCAR. Finally, as an illustration, the capability of reproducing the NCEP–NCAR probability density function (pdf) defining the Greenland anticyclone CP is evaluated for all 14 GCMs, considering that the size and shape of the underlying pdfs complement the commonly used Euclidean distance of CPs’ mean values.

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Benjamin Sultan, Bruno Barbier, Jeanne Fortilus, Serigne Modou Mbaye, and Grégoire Leclerc

Abstract

Recent improvements in the capability of statistical or dynamic models to predict climate fluctuations several months in advance may be an opportunity to improve the management of climatic risk in rain-fed agriculture. The aim of this paper is to evaluate the potential benefits that seasonal climate predictions can bring to farmers in West Africa. The authors have developed an archetypal bioeconomic model of a smallholder farm in Nioro du Rip, a semiarid region of Senegal. The model is used to simulate the decisions of farmers who have access to a priori information on the quality of the next rainy season. First, the potential economic benefits of a perfect rainfall prediction scheme are evaluated, showing how these benefits are affected by forecast accuracy. Then, the potential benefits of several widely used rainfall prediction schemes are evaluated: one group of schemes based on the statistical relationship between rainfall and sea surface temperatures, and one group based on the predictions of coupled ocean–atmosphere models.

The results show that forecasting a dryer than average rainy season would be the most useful to Nioro du Rip farmers if they interpret forecasts as deterministic. Indeed, because forecasts are imperfect, predicting a wetter than average rainy season exposes the farmers to a high risk of failure by favoring cash crops such as maize and peanut that are highly vulnerable to drought. On the other hand, the farmers’ response to a forecast of a dryer than average rainy season minimizes the climate risk by favoring robust crops such as millet and sorghum, which will tolerate higher rainfall in case the forecast is wrong.

When either statistical or dynamic climate models are used for forecasting under the same lead time and the same 31-yr hindcast period (i.e., 1970–2000), similar skill and economic values at farm level are found. When a dryer than average rainy season is predicted, both methods yield an increase of the farmers’ income—13.8% for the statistical model and 9.6% for the bias-corrected Development of a European Multimodel Ensemble System for Seasonal-to-Interannual Prediction (DEMETER) multimodel ensemble mean.

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Serge Janicot, Flore Mounier, Sébastien Gervois, Benjamin Sultan, and George N. Kiladis

Abstract

This study is the last in a series of papers addressing the dynamics of the West African summer monsoon at intraseasonal time scales between 10 and 90 days. The signals of convectively coupled equatorial Rossby (ER) waves within the summer African monsoon have been investigated after filtering NOAA outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) data within a box delineated by the dispersion curves of the theoretical ER waves. Two families of waves have been detected in the 10–100-day periodicity band by performing a singular spectrum analysis on a regional index of ER-filtered OLR. For each family the first EOF mode has been retained to focus on the main convective variability signal.

Within the periodicity band of 30–100 days, an ER wave pattern with an approximate wavelength of 13 500 km has been depicted. This ER wave links the MJO mode in the Indian monsoon sector with the main mode of convective variability over West and central Africa. This confirms the investigations carried out in previous studies.

Within the 10–30-day periodicity band, a separate ER wave pattern has been highlighted in the African monsoon system with an approximate wavelength of 7500 km, a phase speed of 6 m s−1, and a period of 15 days. The combined OLR and atmospheric circulation pattern looks like a combination of ER wave solutions with meridional wavenumbers of 1 and 2. Its vertical baroclinic profile suggests that this wave is forced by the deep convective heating. Its initiation in terms of OLR modulation is detected north of Lake Victoria, extending northward and then propagating westward along the Sahel latitudes.

The Sahel mode identified in previous studies corresponds to the second main mode of convective variability within the 10–30-day periodicity band, and this has also been examined. Its pattern and evolution look like the first-mode ER wave pattern and they are temporally correlated with a coefficient of +0.6. About one-third of the Sahel mode events are concomitant with an ER wave occurrence. The main difference between these two signals consists of a stronger OLR and circulation modulation of the Sahel mode over East and central Africa. Thus, the Sahel mode occurrence and its westward propagation could be explained in part by atmospheric dynamics associated with the ER waves and in part by land surface interactions, as shown in other studies.

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Serge Janicot, Flore Mounier, Nicholas M. J. Hall, Stéphanie Leroux, Benjamin Sultan, and George N. Kiladis

Abstract

This paper is part of a series of studies addressing the dynamics of the West African summer monsoon at intraseasonal time scales between 10 and 90 days. The dominant mode of 25–90-day convective variability in the African monsoon was investigated, starting from previous results involving the excitation of dry equatorial Kelvin and Rossby waves by a negative diabatic heat source located over the warm pool. This evolution is consistent with a significant contribution by a convectively coupled equatorial Rossby wave and the MJO. On the other hand, convectively coupled Kelvin waves as well as the dry Kelvin wave signal have a very weak impact. However, there is more to the global control of the African summer monsoon than convectively coupled wave dynamics. The active/break cycle of the Indian monsoon, controlled by a northward-moving dipole of diabatic heating in the Indian sector, can also influence the African monsoon through atmospheric teleconnections. Simulations performed with a dry primitive equation model show that this influence may be transferred through the northern Indian heat source, which excites a Rossby cyclonic circulation propagating westward over North Africa that is cut off by the northward arrival of the equatorial Indian heat source and the associated intrusion of an anticyclonic ridge. Low-level westerly winds and moisture advection within the ITCZ consequently increase over Africa. The mean time lag between an active phase over India and over Africa is about 15–20 days.

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