The impact of the direct radiative effect of increased CO2 on the West African monsoon

Harry Mutton, Robin Chadwick, Mat Collins, F. Hugo Lambert, Ruth Geen, Alexander Todd, Christopher M. Taylor

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Projections of future West African Monsoon (WAM) precipitation change in response to increasing greenhouse gases are uncertain, and an improved understanding of the drivers of WAM precipitation change is needed to help aid model development and better inform adaptation policies in the region. This paper addresses one of those drivers, the direct radiative effect of increased CO2 (i.e. the impact of increased CO2 in the absence of SST warming and changes in plant physiology). An atmosphere-only model is used to examine both the equilibrium response and the evolution of the change over the days following the instantaneous CO2 increase. In response to the direct radiative effect, WAM precipitation increases due to a weakening of the shallow meridional circulation over North Africa, advecting less dry air into the convective column associated with the monsoon. Changes in the shallow circulation are associated with atmospheric and surface warming patterns over North Africa. A large-scale atmospheric warming pattern, whereby North Africa warms more than the monsoon region, leads to a northward shift in the Saharan heat low. In response to increased precipitation in the Sahel, local soil moisture feedbacks play a key role in determining the low-level circulation change and the location of the inter-tropical discontinuity. The large-scale warming patterns over North Africa result from differing levels of constraint applied by convective quasi-equilibrium. Whilst this constraint acts strongly in the equatorial WAM region, preventing the region from warming in response to the direct radiative effect, North Africa is not strongly constrained and is therefore able to warm.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2441–2458
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number8
Early online date31 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2022


  • Atmosphere
  • Africa
  • Monsoons
  • Climate change


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