Exploring Pacific climate variations and their impacts on East African Water Resources and Food Security

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Wednesday, 7 January 2015: 11:45 AM
121BC (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Chris C. Funk, USGS/Earth Resources Observation Systems, Santa Barbara, CA; and M. Hoerling, A. Hoell, B. Liebmann, J. Verdin, and G. eilerts

In 8 out the past 15 boreal springs (1999, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, and 2013), substantial parts of eastern East Africa experienced very low boreal spring rains. These rainfall deficits have triggered widespread food insecurity, and even contributed to the outbreak of famine conditions in Somalia in 2011. At both seasonal and decadal time scales, new science supported by the USAID Famine Early Warning Systems Network seeks to understand the mechanisms producing these droughts. We present research suggesting that the ultimate and proximate causes of these increases in aridity are i) stronger equatorial Pacific SST gradients and ii) associated increases in the strength of the Indo-Pacific Walker circulation.

Using observations and new modeling ensembles, we explore the relative contributions of Pacific Decadal Variability (PDV) and global warming under warm and cold east Pacific Ocean states. This question is addressed in two ways: by using atmospheric GCMs forced with full and ENSO-only SSTs, and ii) by decomposing coupled ocean-atmosphere climate simulations into PDV and non-PDV components. These analyses allow us to explore the Walker circulation's sensitivity to climate change under various PDV states, and inform a tentative bracketing of 2030 climate conditions.

We conclude by discussing links to East African development. Regions of high rainfall sensitivity are delineated and intersected with recent changes in population and land cover/land use. The interaction of elevation and climate is shown to create climatically secure regions that are likely to remain viable even under drier and warmer conditions; such regions may be logical targets for agricultural intensification. Conversely, arid low elevation regions are likely to experience substantial temperature impacts. Continued expansion into these areas may effectively create more ‘drought' even if rainfall increases.