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The impact of air–sea coupling and ocean biases on the seasonal cycle of southern West African precipitation

Wainwright, Caroline M. ORCID:, Hirons, Linda C., Klingaman, Nicholas P., Allan, Richard P., Black, Emily and Turner, Andrew G. 2019. The impact of air–sea coupling and ocean biases on the seasonal cycle of southern West African precipitation. Climate Dynamics 53 (11) , pp. 7027-7044. 10.1007/s00382-019-04973-0

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The biannual seasonal rainfall regime over the southern part of West Africa is characterised by two wet seasons, separated by the ‘Little Dry Season’ in July–August. Lower rainfall totals during this intervening dry season may be detrimental for crop yields over a region with a dense population that depends on agricultural output. Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) models do not correctly capture this seasonal regime, and instead generate a single wet season, peaking at the observed timing of the Little Dry Season. Hence, the realism of future climate projections over this region is questionable. Here, the representation of the Little Dry Season in coupled model simulations is investigated, to elucidate factors leading to this misrepresentation. The Global Ocean Mixed Layer configuration of the Met Office Unified Model is particularly useful for exploring this misrepresentation, as it enables separating the effects of coupled model ocean biases in different ocean basins while maintaining air–sea coupling. Atlantic Ocean SST biases cause the incorrect seasonal regime over southern West Africa. Upper level descent in August reduces ascent along the coastline, which is associated with the observed reduction in rainfall during the Little Dry Season. When coupled model Atlantic Ocean biases are introduced, ascent over the coastline is deeper and rainfall totals are higher during July–August. Hence, this study indicates detrimental impacts introduced by Atlantic Ocean biases, and highlights an area of model development required for production of meaningful climate change projections over the West Africa region.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Earth and Environmental Sciences
Publisher: Springer
ISSN: 0930-7575
Date of Acceptance: 4 September 2019
Last Modified: 03 May 2023 08:45

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