Rare ground data confirm significant warming and drying in western equatorial Africa



Bush ER, Jeffery K, Bunnefeld N, Tutin C, Musgrave R, Moussavou G, Mihindou V, Malhi Y, Lehmann D, Edzang Ndong J, Makaga L & Abernethy K (2020) Rare ground data confirm significant warming and drying in western equatorial Africa. PeerJ, 8, Art. No.: e8732.

Background The humid tropical forests of Central Africa influence weather worldwide and play a major role in the global carbon cycle. However, they are also an ecological anomaly, with evergreen forests dominating the western equatorial region despite less than 2,000 mm total annual rainfall. Meteorological data for Central Africa are notoriously sparse and incomplete and there are substantial issues with satellite-derived data because of persistent cloudiness and inability to ground-truth estimates. Long-term climate observations are urgently needed to verify regional climate and vegetation models, shed light on the mechanisms that drive climatic variability and assess the viability of evergreen forests under future climate scenarios. Methods We have the rare opportunity to analyse a 34 year dataset of rainfall and temperature (and shorter periods of absolute humidity, wind speed, solar radiation and aerosol optical depth) from Lopé National Park, a long-term ecological research site in Gabon, western equatorial Africa. We used (generalized) linear mixed models and spectral analyses to assess seasonal and inter-annual variation, long-term trends and oceanic influences on local weather patterns. Results Lopé’s weather is characterised by a cool, light-deficient, long dry season. Long-term climatic means have changed significantly over the last 34 years, with warming occurring at a rate of +0.25 °C per decade (minimum daily temperature) and drying at a rate of −75 mm per decade (total annual rainfall). Inter-annual climatic variability at Lopé is highly influenced by global weather patterns. Sea surface temperatures of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans have strong coherence with Lopé temperature and rainfall on multi-annual scales. Conclusions The Lopé long-term weather record has not previously been made public and is of high value in such a data poor region. Our results support regional analyses of climatic seasonality, long-term warming and the influences of the oceans on temperature and rainfall variability. However, warming has occurred more rapidly than the regional products suggest and while there remains much uncertainty in the wider region, rainfall has declined over the last three decades at Lopé. The association between rainfall and the Atlantic cold tongue at Lopé lends some support for the ‘dry’ models of climate change for the region. In the context of a rapidly warming and drying climate, urgent research is needed into the sensitivity of dry season clouds to ocean temperatures and the viability of humid evergreen forests in this dry region should the clouds disappear.

Climate change; Tropical forests; Central Africa; Gabon; Lopé; Warming; Drying; Seasonality; Meteorology; Western equatorial Africa

PeerJ: Volume 8

FundersAgence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux and European Commission (Horizon 2020)
Publication date30/04/2020
Publication date online14/04/2020
Date accepted by journal11/02/2020
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Professor Katharine Abernethy
Professor Katharine Abernethy

Professor, Biological and Environmental Sciences

Professor Nils Bunnefeld
Professor Nils Bunnefeld

Professor, Biological and Environmental Sciences

Ms Kathryn Jeffery
Ms Kathryn Jeffery

Research Fellow, Biological and Environmental Sciences

Projects (1)