Background albedo dynamics improve simulated precipitation variability in the Sahel region
Abstract. Using the general circulation model ECHAM5–JSBACH forced by observed sea surface temperatures (SSTs) for the 20th century, we investigate the role of vegetation and land surface albedo dynamics in shaping rainfall variability in the Sahel. We use two different land surface albedo schemes, one in which the albedo of the canopy is varying and one in which the albedo changes of the surface below the canopy are also taken into account. The SST forcing provides the background for simulating the observed decadal signal in Sahelian rainfall, though the response to SST forcing only is not strong enough to fully capture the observed signal. The introduction of dynamic vegetation leads to an increase in interannual variability of the rainfall, and gives rise to an increased number of high-amplitude rainfall anomaly events. The dynamic background albedo leads to an increased persistence of the rainfall anomalies. The increase in persistence means that the difference between the dry and the wet decades is increased compared to the other simulations, and thus more closely matching the observed absolute change between these two periods. These results highlight the need for a consistent representation of land surface albedo dynamics for capturing the full extent of rainfall anomalies in the Sahel.