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Africa’s key to global climate change


G8 campaigning has raised awareness of the debt problems faced by African countries – but their inhabitants have also had to contend with severe climate change, with disastrous effects on water resources, agriculture and health. An international collaboration involving the University aims to discover what controls the volatile West African climate.

Dr Doug Parker believes that predictive global climate models will be ‘useless’ until detailed studies into the region’s tropospheric composition (the area from which all weather occurs) are conducted. “We can’t claim to be able to accurately predict global climate change if one huge area is systematically wrong,” said the earth and environment senior lecturer.

Dr Parker is leading the UK section of AMMA (African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analyses) – over 65 international institutions – which will carry out in-depth observations of this understudied region. “It’s almost like a space mission in regard to the atmospheric composition – measurements have never been made before and we don’t know exactly what we’re going to find,” he said.

The unpredictable climate is a particular problem in the Sahel area, which suffered a major drought in the late 1970s causing large-scale famine and a major aid response. This African boundary zone between the Sahara to the north and the more fertile southerly region changes dramatically depending on the size and duration of the West African monsoon.

This has not only caused social and health problems for the people of the Sahel, but also has global consequences – for example, there is a strong correlation between rainfall in the Sahel and intense hurricane activity in the Atlantic, with 80 per cent of all hurricanes coming from Africa.

AMMA researchers will complete long-term monitoring over several seasons and intensive observations in summer 2006. Field measurements will help refine predictive models for the environment and climate of Africa, and the world.

Claire Jones | alfa
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