Predicting Atlantic Ocean and climate changes... new insights
European researchers joined forces with Atlantic African counterparts to explore the impacts of ocean changes on weather patterns, marine ecosystems and the wider socio-economic consequences for the region. Their findings uncover new thinking and calculations for wind, currents, and other factors in accurately modelling sea surface temperatures.
© File: #223554907 | Author: claudio, 2018 fotolia.com
Ocean warming and climate change affect regions very differently, hampering effective modelling and predictions. While the Atlantic Ocean is known to strongly influence surrounding continents, modelling its wider impact on the earth-climate system, especially the eastern tropical regions, has proven difficult. This in turn makes climate change projections and resulting impacts on weather patterns, marine and coastal ecosystems as well as regional economies, highly uncertain.
Atlantic African countries have been hit particularly hard by oceanic changes and global warming. But without scientific evidence, it is impossible to determine the full extent of the problem how it is affecting marine ecosystems and the valuable fishing and tourism industry what can be done to mitigate it and, ultimately, help affected countries adapt to the realities.
The EU-funded PREFACE project took up this challenge, bringing together 18 leading institutions from Europe with 10 international partners on the ground to better understand how three large marine ecosystems the Canary Current, Gulf of Guinea and Benguela Current function, and how to manage them more sustainably given ocean and climate changes taking place.
PREFACE is tackling these interconnected issues to better quantify and understand climate change impacts in the region; the individual and cumulative effects on oceans, rainfall, fisheries, marine ecosystems and services, coastal life and the broader socio-economic risks.
Accurate data = better predictions
The risks to fishing and marine ecosystems are just the start. Ocean temperature changes also affect rainfall and the ability to predict it, which is vital to agricultural and water planning, as well as to livelihoods in Atlantic Africa and beyond. Water is also a critical factor in the health and welfare of the population, according to the research team led by Bergen Universitys Noel Keenlyside. Weve known this for a while, but numerical models and basic understanding of the region have been severely limited. EU funding has allowed the necessary expertise to be gathered to form critical mass and address these challenges.
Climate models for the eastern tropical Atlantic, used to predict precipitation in West Africa, traditionally struggled to get the sea surface temperatures (SST) right. But evidence collected and analysed during PREFACE expeditions and autonomous probes measuring the currents, salinity and temperature is changing that, especially data coming out of the equatorial and eastern boundary ocean upwelling regions key to the local ecosystem and global climate. And clearly, the more accurate the data, according to the team, the better the predictions on future climate events and ecosystems change.
Logs of the ocean expeditions and diverse scientific reports delivered by PREFACE can be found in the projects on-line repository, and include insights into air-sea interaction, seasonal sea- and fresh-water balance, mechanisms for long-term variability, seasonality, wave and wind dynamics, current speed, salt levels, and more.
PREFACE scientists discovered that poor wind calculations were causing older numerical models to underestimate SSTs, and they used this knowledge to improve climate predictions for the equatorial Atlantic water temperatures and shifts in Sahel rainfall over decades.
The interaction between wind, cloud cover/solar radiation and ocean dynamics was also studied and revealed wide variations (regionally, seasonally and among models), which highlighted the importance of a multi-model approach, according to the team.
PREFACEs discoveries are a game-changer in forecasting climatic shifts and major extremes in the region and beyond, according to Keenlyside: Better measurements are the essence of understanding and predicting climate variability in the tropical Atlantic. For our African partners and communities affected by climate change, our findings raise awareness and help them prepare for extreme events.
PREFACE has paved the way to the development of climate services, especially for the marine sector in the tropical Atlantic and Africa. Future work is now required to integrate our findings and better understand environmental impacts on the ecosystem so we can further improve operational prediction models, he adds.
For example, PREFACE results suggest that El Niño could act as a possible large-scale climatic jolt to African fishery cycles off the north-west coast. This opens a window of opportunity for developing an effective seasonal prediction system.
From awareness to exchange
Close cooperation between the partners, including the Benguela Current Commission (BCC) and Subregional Fisheries Commission (SRFC), was essential to the successful modelling work. Workshops, summer schools and academic programmes, as well as student and staff exchanges between Africa and the EU were all part of PREFACEs knowledge-sharing and capacity-strengthening ambition.
The projects success is manifest in the findings but also in the growth of individuals involved, remarked Carlos Ferreira Santos, Head of the Ocean Science Center Mindelo (OSCM) and German Consul of Cape Verde, at the final PREFACE science-policy workshop.
A lot of young students entering PREFACE have benefited from contact with top scientists for the first time, and today I see them managing their own institutions or advising governments and ministers, he explains, adding that north-south and south-south exchanges made possible by initiatives like PREFACE are a powerful capacity-strengthening tool.
PREFACE was part of a cluster of projects funded by the European Union to investigate climate-related ocean processes and combined impacts of multiple stressors on the marine environment, as a contribution to the pan-European and international goal of achieving the sustainable management of the environment and its resources.