We review the evidence that connects drought and desertification in the Sahel with climate change past, present and future. Advances in climate modeling point to the oceans, not land, as the cause of the recent persistence of drought in the Sahel. The current generation of global climate models reproduces the spatial extent, continental in scale, and the timing and duration of the shift to dry conditions that occurred in the late 1960's given knowledge of observed surface oceanic conditions only. The pattern statistically and dynamically associated with drought is one of warming of the tropical oceans, especially the Pacific and Indian Oceans, superimposed on an enhanced warming of the southern compared to the northern hemisphere most evident in the Atlantic. These models, which include a prognostic description of land surface and/or vegetation, albeit crude, indicate that positive feedbacks between precipitation and land surface/cover may act to amplify the ocean-forced component of continental climate. Despite the advances made in understanding the recent past, uncertainty dominates as we move forward in time, to the present, partial greening of the Sahel, and to the future of climate change projections. (C) 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Sp. Iss. SI394EMTimes Cited:1Cited References Count:97