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Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed
under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
09 Mar 2017
Review status
This discussion paper is under review for the journal Biogeosciences (BG).
Accounting for El Niño-Southern Oscillation influence becomes urgent for predicting future East African ecosystem responses
Istem Fer1,2,3, Britta Tietjen4,5, Florian Jeltsch1,5, and Christian Wolff6,7 1Department of Plant Ecology and Nature Conservation, Institute of Biochemistry and Biology, University of Potsdam, Am Mühlenberg 3, 14476 Potsdam, Germany
2DFG Graduate School Shaping the Earth's Surface in a Variable Environment, University of Potsdam, Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 24, 14476 Potsdam, Germany
3Department of Earth and Environment, Boston University, 675 Commonwealth Avenue, 02215 MA, USA
4Biodiversity and Ecological Modelling, Institute of Biology, Freie Universität Berlin, Altensteinstr. 6, 14195 Berlin, Germany
5Berlin-Brandenburg, Institute of Advanced Biodiversity Research (BBIB), D-14195 Berlin, Germany
6Climate Geochemistry Department, Max-Planck Institute for Chemistry, Hahn-Meitner Weg 1, 55128 Mainz, Germany
7International Pacific Research Center, School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, University of Hawai’i at Manoa, Honolulu, 96822 HI, USA
Abstract. The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), is the main driver for the interannual variability in East African rainfall with significant impact on vegetation and agriculture, and dire consequences for food and social security. In this study, we identify and quantify the ENSO contribution to the East African rainfall variability to forecast future East African vegetation response to rainfall variability related to a predicted intensified ENSO. To differentiate the vegetation variability due to ENSO, we removed the ENSO signal from the climate data using Empirical Orthogonal Teleconnections (EOT) analysis. Then, we simulated the vegetation under the historical climate without components related to ENSO teleconnections. We found ENSO driven patterns in vegetation response and confirmed that EOT analysis can successfully produce coupled tropical Pacific Sea Surface temperature-East African rainfall teleconnection from observed datasets. We further simulated East African vegetation response under future climate change as it is projected by climate models and under future climate change combined with a predicted increased ENSO intensity. Our EOT analysis highlight that climate simulations are still not good at capturing rainfall variability due to ENSO, and as we show here the future vegetation would be different from what is simulated under these climate model outputs lacking accurate ENSO contribution. We simulated considerable differences in East African vegetation growth under the influence of an intensified ENSO regime which will bring further environmental stress to a region with a reduced capacity to adapt effects of global climate change and food security.

Citation: Fer, I., Tietjen, B., Jeltsch, F., and Wolff, C.: Accounting for El Niño-Southern Oscillation influence becomes urgent for predicting future East African ecosystem responses, Biogeosciences Discuss., doi:10.5194/bg-2017-49, in review, 2017.
Istem Fer et al.
Istem Fer et al.

Model code and software

ENSO manuscript accompanying code
I. Fer
Istem Fer et al.


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Short summary
El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) has been identified as one of the main drivers for the interannual variability in East African rainfall. But we know little about its direct impact on vegetation and how it might change in the future. In this study, we quantified this relationship and predict its future under certain climate change scenarios. Results suggest that we need to consider an increase in future ENSO intensity to cover the full range of potential changes in vegetation responses.
El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) has been identified as one of the main drivers for the...