West African research launches – with monsoon focus

In early October, the Future Climate For Africa programme (FCFA) launched its flagship research initiative for West Africa, called ‘AMMA-2050’ for ‘African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analysis 2050’.

The launch took place at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford, UK over five days and brought together a diverse group of physical and social scientists. Researchers from Senegal, Burkina Faso, England and France engaged in intense discussion on the West African monsoon, high impact weather and the effects on agriculture and flooding in Senegal and Ouagadougou respectively. The event was chaired by Dr Chris Taylor, the Principal Investigator for AMMA-2050.

One of the keys to understanding climate change in West Africa is that there is a large area over the region where projections from climate models do not agree. This means that defensible conclusions on climate change projections in the region are hard to come by, given the high levels of uncertainty. This puts further pressure on a decision-makers’ ability to make an informed decision based on the information supplied by academics. Improving the performance of climate models for West Africa as well as improving understanding of the climate system in West Africa are some of the key targets for the research by AMMA-2050.

The role of extreme weather events in West Africa’s future will be particularly important for decision-making: from the household to the national level. “When we think about high intensity rain events, it’s simply not enough to know how the seasonal mean rainfall will change, we have to understand how these really powerful storms will change,” said Dr Taylor.

For example, policy-makers need to know projections for flooding and also how to cope with flood events. Ougadougou in Burkina Faso is one of the ‘demonstration sites’ for how climate change and related information on climate impacts could be used in decision-making and the city provides a clear example of why it’s important to know the frequency and intensity of extreme events – as well as slow onset climate change – in the coming decades.

A major question to be answered by the AMMA-2050 research is whether the modelling framework will be able to capture all relevant uncertainties: not only are there uncertainties around future climate change to capture, but indicative socio-economic impacts will need to be modelled, and these also carry significant uncertainty. For example, demographic trends for the city of Ougadougou, and economic growth rates (and hence any projected economic losses as a result of flooding) are just two of the kinds of variables that should inform decision-making but cannot be predicted accurately

The consortium will enhance hydrological knowledge of the rainfall process, as there is no clear link between rainfall and runoff in Ouagadougou. A better understanding of the flooding system in Ouagadougou will provide much needed information to support flood mitigation and informed planning policy particularly through the “Grand Ouaga” plan.

AMMA-2050 is also investigating the impacts of high impact weather on pearl millet. Pearl millet provides much-needed nutrition in the daily diets of 50 million people across the Sahel: and so is an extremely important crop in Senegal, where AMMA-2050 consortium members will be working. AMMA-2050 will be linking genetic variation in pearl millet to climate information so that they can essentially have a map of where specific genetic varieties are performing well and use this to help identify the genotypes with improved tolerance to drought and heat. It takes approximately 15 years to breed a new variety that is resilient to drought and heat, so this is just one of AMMA-2050’s long-term research goals, which is supported by the next four years of FCFA support.

“The biggest issue is how to get policy makers to understand the characteristics of the science, to improve the science and to show through the pilot studies in Ouagadougou and Senegal that climate information can make a difference to peoples livelihoods,” said Dr Dominic Kniveton of the University of Sussex, one of AMMA-2050’s leading scientists.

AMMA-2050 forms the West African component of the FCFA programme, which covers sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. For news on other research initiatives supported by FCFA, visit the FCFA brochure or explore ‘Locations’ in the menu above.

AMMA-2050 Team Photo- by Julio Araujo

AMMA-2050 Team Photo – by Julio Araujo