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The Impact of Human-Induced Climate Change on Regional Drought in the Horn of Africa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • T. R. Marthews
  • R. G. Jones
  • S. J. Dadson
  • F. E.L. Otto
  • D. Mitchell
  • B. P. Guillod
  • M. R. Allen
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4549-4566
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Issue number8
Early online date8 Apr 2019
DateAccepted/In press - 2 Apr 2019
DateE-pub ahead of print - 8 Apr 2019
DatePublished (current) - 27 Apr 2019


A severe drought hit the Greater Horn of Africa (GHA) in 2014, but it remains unclear whether this extreme event was attributable to anthropogenic climate change or part of longer-term natural cycles. Precipitation patterns are known to be changing across the GHA, but trajectories in land surface variables are much less well known. We simulated the GHA land surface environment to assess the balance between natural cycles and human-induced climate change. Using a new form of event attribution study where we focused on both climate variables and also directly simulated land surface variables, we combined publicly volunteered distributed computing with land surface simulations to quantify land surface responses. Uncertainty was quantified both for climate model and land surface model outputs. We identified two distinct “drought trajectories” in the GHA bimodal seasonality area during the March–May (Long Rains season) of 2014. Human-induced climate change may have resulted in regions from Lake Nalubaale (Lake Victoria) to Northern Kenya receiving less precipitation in this season and having up to 20% higher probability of drought-level evapotranspiration rates (increasing drought). In contrast, the simulated anthropogenic climate change signal for this season induced somewhat wetter conditions and up to 20% lower probability of drought-level evapotranspiration in Eastern Ethiopia, Southern Somalia, and coastal Kenya (decreasing drought). Uncertainties in our modeling system varied by region and variable of focus, but broadly we found that land surface simulation uncertainty neither added significantly to climate model uncertainty nor significantly reduced it.

    Research areas

  • Attribution, Climate change, Evaporation, Extreme events, Land surface science

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