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Satellites reveal that green means rain in Africa

United Kingdom, 27 September 2006 – Scientists from Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)-funded Climate and Land Surface Interactions Centre (CLASSIC) have found that the presence of green vegetation has a major influence on the amount of rain that falls in the Sahel region of Africa, south of the Sahara desert. Rains at the start of the growing season cause vegetation growth. This encourages a feedback loop as the greener the vegetation becomes, the greater the amount of rain that falls.

This important new research could help us to predict future droughts in Africa. The research can be used to aid regional and international forecasts for rain-starved regions.

Using satellite technology, Dr Sietse Los and colleagues at CLASSIC worked with NASA to develop a dataset covering 18 years of vegetation greenness records. They combined these records with rainfall data in the region over the same period — from 1982 to1999. The resulting analyses show, for the first time, that rainfall amounts vary between 10% and 30% more when the land is green, and decreases by a similar amount when conditions are dry and there is little green vegetation growing.

Dr Los said, ” The role of vegetation in enhancing both wet and dry conditions in sub-Saharan Africa is important for understanding the causes of droughts, which often have dire consequences for the local population. Our research will help to improve current climate models and give better rainfall and vegetation growth predictions. And in turn this will help both climate scientists and local agricultural managers.” The research was published in Geophysical Research Letters (USA), August 2006.

CLASSIC is a NERC Collaborative Centre funded under the Earth Observation Centres of Excellence programme. CLASSIC brings together a consortium of researchers from the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Universities of Swansea, Durham, Exeter and Leicester and the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research. The principal goal of CLASSIC is to reduce uncertainty in climate change predictions through an improved understanding of the feedback mechanisms that exist between the land surface and the atmosphere.

– About NERC
The United Kingdom’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) provides independent research and training in the environmental sciences. Our mission is to gather and apply knowledge, improve understanding and predict the behaviour of the natural environment and its resources.