An observation-based estimate of the strength of rainfall-vegetation interactions in the Sahel.
journal contributionposted on 19.11.2007, 15:39 by Sietse O. Los, Graham P. Weedon, P. R. J. North, Jörg Kaduk, C. M. Taylor, P. M. Cox
Over the course of the twentieth century the African Sahel experienced large variations in annual precipitation; including the wet period during the 1950s and 1960s and the long-term drought during the 1970s and 1980s. Feedbacks between the land surface and atmosphere can affect rainfall variability at monthly, annual and decadal time scales. However, the strength of the coupling between the land surface and precipitation is still highly uncertain, with climate-model derived estimates differing by an order of magnitude. Here a statistical model of vegetation greenness is used to estimate the vegetation-rainfall coupling strength in the Sahel, based on monthly satellite-derived vegetation index and meteorological data. Evidence is found for a positive feedback between vegetation and rainfall at the monthly time scale, and for a vegetation memory operating at the annual time scale. These vegetation-rainfall interactions increase the interannual variation in Sahelian precipitation; accounting for as much as 30% of the variability in annual precipitation in some hot spot regions between 15° and 20°N.