Mid-Pliocene West African Monsoon rainfall as simulated in the PlioMIP2 ensemble

Christian.Stepanek [ at ] awi.de


The mid-Pliocene warm period (mPWP; ∼3.2 million years ago) is seen as the most recent time period characterized by a warm climate state, with similar to modern geography and ∼400 ppmv atmospheric CO2 concentration, and is therefore often considered an interesting analogue for near-future climate projections. Paleoenvironmental reconstructions indicate higher surface temperatures, decreasing tropical deserts, and a more humid climate in West Africa characterized by a strengthened West African Monsoon (WAM). Using model results from the second phase of the Pliocene Modelling Intercomparison Project (PlioMIP2) ensemble, we analyse changes of the WAM rainfall during the mPWP by comparing them with the control simulations for the pre-industrial period. The ensemble shows a robust increase in the summer rainfall over West Africa and the Sahara region, with an average increase of 2.5 mm/d, contrasted by a rainfall decrease over the equatorial Atlantic. An anomalous warming of the Sahara and deepening of the Saharan Heat Low, seen in >90 % of the models, leads to a strengthening of the WAM and an increased monsoonal flow into the continent. A similar warming of the Sahara is seen in future projections using both phase 3 and 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP3 and CMIP5). Though previous studies of future projections indicate a west–east drying–wetting contrast over the Sahel, PlioMIP2 simulations indicate a uniform rainfall increase in that region in warm climates characterized by increasing greenhouse gas forcing. We note that this effect will further depend on the long-term response of the vegetation to the CO2 forcing.

Item Type
Primary Division
Primary Topic
Helmholtz Cross Cutting Activity (2021-2027)
Research Networks
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Eprint ID
DOI 10.5194/cp-17-1777-2021

Cite as
Berntell, E. , Zhang, Q. , Li, Q. , Haywood, A. M. , Tindall, J. C. , Hunter, S. J. , Zhang, Z. , Li, X. , Guo, C. , Nisancioglu, K. H. , Stepanek, C. , Lohmann, G. , Sohl, L. E. , Chandler, M. A. , Tan, N. , Contoux, C. , Ramstein, G. , Baatsen, M. L. J. , von der Heydt, A. S. , Chandan, D. , Peltier, W. R. , Abe-Ouchi, A. , Chan, W. L. , Kamae, Y. , Williams, C. J. R. , Lunt, D. J. , Feng, R. , Otto-Bliesner, B. L. and Brady, E. C. (2021): Mid-Pliocene West African Monsoon rainfall as simulated in the PlioMIP2 ensemble , Climate of the Past, 17 (4), pp. 1777-1794 . doi: 10.5194/cp-17-1777-2021

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