Vegetation–climate feedbacks modulate rainfall patterns in Africa under future climate change
Abstract. Africa has been undergoing significant changes in climate and vegetation in recent decades, and continued changes may be expected over this century. Vegetation cover and composition impose important influences on the regional climate in Africa. Climate-driven changes in vegetation structure and the distribution of forests versus savannah and grassland may feed back to climate via shifts in the surface energy balance, hydrological cycle and resultant effects on surface pressure and larger-scale atmospheric circulation. We used a regional Earth system model incorporating interactive vegetation–atmosphere coupling to investigate the potential role of vegetation-mediated biophysical feedbacks on climate dynamics in Africa in an RCP8.5-based future climate scenario. The model was applied at high resolution (0.44 × 0.44°) for the CORDEX-Africa domain with boundary conditions from the CanESM2 general circulation model. We found that increased tree cover and leaf-area index (LAI) associated with a CO2 and climate-driven increase in net primary productivity, particularly over subtropical savannah areas, not only imposed important local effect on the regional climate by altering surface energy fluxes but also resulted in remote effects over central Africa by modulating the land–ocean temperature contrast, Atlantic Walker circulation and moisture inflow feeding the central African tropical rainforest region with precipitation. The vegetation-mediated feedbacks were in general negative with respect to temperature, dampening the warming trend simulated in the absence of feedbacks, and positive with respect to precipitation, enhancing rainfall reduction over the rainforest areas. Our results highlight the importance of accounting for vegetation–atmosphere interactions in climate projections for tropical and subtropical Africa.