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WEBINAR: How can climate models be improved over Africa? Investigating global models with local knowledge

Dr Rachel James, a Visiting Researcher at the Department of Oceanography, University of Cape Town and a Research Fellow for the University of Oxford, recently gave a Future Climate for Africa (FCFA) webinar that explored how scientists can deepen their understanding of African climate processes.  She discussed how scientists can improve climate modeling by ground-truthing their data and assumptions better,  with local sources of climate knowledge.

Dr James is Researcher for the FCFA programme, for both its IMPALA (continent-wide) and UMFULA (Eastern Africa) consortia. FCFA is affiliated with the Climate and Development Knowledge Network and is funded by the UK government.

The webinar was held on 15th March, 2018, with a recording below. View the slide presentation here


Dr James discussed a new paper from a team of scientists from Cameroon, Kenya, South Africa and the UK. The paper, published in BAMS (the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society), calls for collaboration between international climate modellers and African scientists to deliver a dramatic improvement in our understanding of climate models over Africa.

Climate model experiments are increasingly being used by planners and risk managers in Africa to try to prepare for a changing climate. However, for many parts of Africa, there has been limited work to evaluate climate models’ ability to capture key climate features. What is more, African climate systems are particularly tricky to represent in climate models. The paper highlights the importance of process-based model evaluation for Africa. The paper demonstrates examples of this kind of process-based model evaluation, including for Central, East, Southern and West Africa. In each region, the analysis is guided by local expertise, led by scientists from the University of Yaounde I, University of Nairobi, and University of Cape Town. The authors highlight the potential to deliver a dramatic improvement in understanding of climate models over Africa by drawing on the wealth of local weather and climate expertise in African meteorological services, research institutes, and universities to evaluate climate models. They also propose the opportunity for establishing a model evaluation “hub” for Africa to support collaboration between scientists in Africa, and climate modelling centres.

The webinar unpacked the challenge of African model evaluation and introduced the work the FCFA IMPALA project is doing to turn an ‘African lens’ on climate models. It also raised the longer term challenge of delivering sustained improvement in climate representation and prediction over the continent, and invited discussion of a potential African model evaluation ‘hub”.


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