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
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.
For more information on
the AMMA project, and the other people
involved, see www.env.leeds.ac.uk/AMMA.
For more information on other research
taking place in the institute for atmospheric
science see www.env.leeds.ac.uk/research/ias/index.htm
Photo: Dr Doug Parker
with a dropsonde – released from
planes, they take measurements as they
fall to earth