Future evolution of the Sahel precipitation zonal contrast in CESM1

Paul-Arthur Monerie, Emilia Sanchez-Gomez, Marco Gaetani, Elsa Mohino, Buwen Dong
2020 Climate Dynamics  
The main focus of this study is the zonal contrast of the Sahel precipitation shown in the CMIP5 climate projections: precipitation decreases over the western Sahel (i.e., Senegal and western Mali) and increases over the central Sahel (i.e., eastern Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger). This zonal contrast in future precipitation change is a robust model response to climate change but suffers from a lack of an explanation. To this aim, we study the impact of current and future climate change on Sahel
more » ... recipitation by using the Large Ensemble of the Community Earth System Model version 1 (CESM1). In CESM1, global warming leads to a strengthening of the zonal contrast, as shown by the difference between the 2060-2099 period (under a high emission scenario) and the 1960-1999 period (under the historical forcing). The zonal contrast is associated with dynamic shifts in the atmospheric circulation. We show that, in absence of a forced response, that is, when only accounting for internal climate variability, the zonal contrast is associated with the Pacific and the tropical Atlantic oceans variability. However, future patterns in sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies are not necessary to explaining the projected strengthening of the zonal contrast. The mechanisms underlying the simulated changes are elucidated by analysing a set of CMIP5 idealised simulations. We show the increase in precipitation over the central Sahel to be mostly associated with the surface warming over northern Africa, which favour the displacement of the monsoon cell northwards. Over the western Sahel, the decrease in Sahel precipitation is associated with a southward shift of the monsoon circulation, and is mostly due to the warming of the SST. These two mechanisms allow explaining the zonal contrast in precipitation change.
doi:10.1007/s00382-020-05417-w fatcat:mxtw2fkhjra4vourwg6hnvb4va