Nellie Elguindi, Filippo Giorgi, and Dominik Wisser
Climatic Change


The response of West African climate zones to anthropogenic climate change during the late 21st century is investigated using the revised Thornthwaite climate classification applied to ensembles of CMIP5, CORDEX, and higher-resolution RegCM4 experiments (HIRES). The ensembles reproduce fairly well the observed climate zones, although with some notable discrepancies. CORDEX and HIRES provide realistic fine-scale information which enhances that from the coarser-scale CMIP5, especially in the Gulf of Guinea encompassing marked landcover and topography gradients. The late 21st century projections reveal an extension of torrid climates throughout West Africa. In addition, the Sahel, predominantly semi-arid in present-day conditions, is projected to face moderately persistent future arid climate. Similarly, the Gulf of Guinea shows a tendency in the future to experience highly seasonal semi-arid conditions. Finally, wet and moist regions with an extreme seasonality around orographic zones become less extensive under future climate change. Consequently, West Africa evolves towards increasingly torrid, arid and semi-arid regimes with the recession of moist and wet zones mostly because of the temperature forcing, although precipitation can be locally an important factor. These features are common to all multimodel ensembles, a sign of robustness, with few disagreements in their areal extents, and with more pronounced changes in the higher-resolution RCM projections. Such changes point towards an increased risk of water stress for managed and unmanaged ecosystems, and thus add an element of vulnerability to future anthropogenic climate change for West African water management, ecosystem services and agricultural activities.