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Concept: Sahel


During the “Green Sahara” period (11,000 to 5000 years before the present), the Sahara desert received high amounts of rainfall, supporting diverse vegetation, permanent lakes, and human populations. Our knowledge of rainfall rates and the spatiotemporal extent of wet conditions has suffered from a lack of continuous sedimentary records. We present a quantitative reconstruction of western Saharan precipitation derived from leaf wax isotopes in marine sediments. Our data indicate that the Green Sahara extended to 31°N and likely ended abruptly. We find evidence for a prolonged “pause” in Green Sahara conditions 8000 years ago, coincident with a temporary abandonment of occupational sites by Neolithic humans. The rainfall rates inferred from our data are best explained by strong vegetation and dust feedbacks; without these mechanisms, climate models systematically fail to reproduce the Green Sahara. This study suggests that accurate simulations of future climate change in the Sahara and Sahel will require improvements in our ability to simulate vegetation and dust feedbacks.

Concepts: Africa, Sahara, Climate, Niger, Chad, Monsoon, Sahel, Desertification


The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and other climate patterns can have profound impacts on the occurrence of infectious diseases ranging from dengue to cholera. In Africa, El Niño conditions are associated with increased rainfall in East Africa and decreased rainfall in southern Africa, West Africa, and parts of the Sahel. Because of the key role of water supplies in cholera transmission, a relationship between El Niño events and cholera incidence is highly plausible, and previous research has shown a link between ENSO patterns and cholera in Bangladesh. However, there is little systematic evidence for this link in Africa. Using high-resolution mapping techniques, we find that the annual geographic distribution of cholera in Africa from 2000 to 2014 changes dramatically, with the burden shifting to continental East Africa-and away from Madagascar and portions of southern, Central, and West Africa-where almost 50,000 additional cases occur during El Niño years. Cholera incidence during El Niño years was higher in regions of East Africa with increased rainfall, but incidence was also higher in some areas with decreased rainfall, suggesting a complex relationship between rainfall and cholera incidence. Here, we show clear evidence for a shift in the distribution of cholera incidence throughout Africa in El Niño years, likely mediated by El Niño’s impact on local climatic factors. Knowledge of this relationship between cholera and climate patterns coupled with ENSO forecasting could be used to notify countries in Africa when they are likely to see a major shift in their cholera risk.

Concepts: Africa, Climate change, West Africa, Madagascar, Southern Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, Sahel


Seasonal Malaria Chemoprevention (SMC) with sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP) plus amodiaquine (AQ), given each month during the transmission season, is recommended for children living in areas of the Sahel where malaria transmission is highly seasonal. The recommendation for SMC is currently limited to children under five years of age, but, in many areas of seasonal transmission, the burden in older children may justify extending this age limit. This study was done to determine the effectiveness of SMC in Senegalese children up to ten years of age.

Concepts: Malaria, Africa, Season, Limited, Senegal, Sahel


We developed new quantitative palaeoclimatic inference models based on the body-size structure of mammal faunas from the Old World tropics and applied them to the Somosaguas fossil site (middle Miocene, central Iberian Peninsula). Twenty-six mammal species have been described at this site, including proboscideans, ungulates, carnivores, insectivores, lagomorphs and rodents. Our analyses were based on multivariate and bivariate regression models correlating climatic data and body-size structure of 63 modern mammal assemblages from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian subcontinent. The results showed an average temperature of the coldest month higher than 26°C for the Somosaguas fossil site, a mean annual thermal amplitude around 10°C, a drought length of 10 months, and an annual total precipitation greater than 200 mm per year, which are climate conditions typical of an ecotonal zone between the savanna and desert biomes. These results are congruent with the aridity peaks described over the middle Aragonian of Spain and particularly in the local biozone E, which includes Somosaguas. The aridity increase detected in this biozone is associated with the Middle Miocene Global Cooling Event. The environment of Somosaguas around 14 Ma was similar to the current environment in the Sahel region of North Africa, the Horn of Africa, the boundary area between the Kalahari and the Namib in Southern Africa, south-central Arabia, or eastern Pakistan and northwestern India. The distribution of modern vegetation in these regions follows a complex mosaic of plant communities, dominated by scattered xerophilous shrublands, semidesert grasslands, and vegetation linked to seasonal watercourses and ponds.

Concepts: Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, Sahara, Mammal, Berber people, Namibia, Sahel


The Sahel region of West Africa has the highest bacterial meningitis attack and case fatality rate in the world. The effect of climatic factors on patterns of invasive respiratory bacterial disease is not well documented.

Concepts: Bacteria, Africa, Sahara, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, West Africa, Sahel, Desertification


The hydrological cycle is expected to intensify under global warming, with studies reporting more frequent extreme rain events in many regions of the world, and predicting increases in future flood frequency. Such early, predominantly mid-latitude observations are essential because of shortcomings within climate models in their depiction of convective rainfall. A globally important group of intense storms-mesoscale convective systems (MCSs)-poses a particular challenge, because they organize dynamically on spatial scales that cannot be resolved by conventional climate models. Here, we use 35 years of satellite observations from the West African Sahel to reveal a persistent increase in the frequency of the most intense MCSs. Sahelian storms are some of the most powerful on the planet, and rain gauges in this region have recorded a rise in ‘extreme’ daily rainfall totals. We find that intense MCS frequency is only weakly related to the multidecadal recovery of Sahel annual rainfall, but is highly correlated with global land temperatures. Analysis of trends across Africa reveals that MCS intensification is limited to a narrow band south of the Sahara desert. During this period, wet-season Sahelian temperatures have not risen, ruling out the possibility that rainfall has intensified in response to locally warmer conditions. On the other hand, the meridional temperature gradient spanning the Sahel has increased in recent decades, consistent with anthropogenic forcing driving enhanced Saharan warming. We argue that Saharan warming intensifies convection within Sahelian MCSs through increased wind shear and changes to the Saharan air layer. The meridional gradient is projected to strengthen throughout the twenty-first century, suggesting that the Sahel will experience particularly marked increases in extreme rain. The remarkably rapid intensification of Sahelian MCSs since the 1980s sheds new light on the response of organized tropical convection to global warming, and challenges conventional projections made by general circulation models.

Concepts: Africa, Sahara, Precipitation, Weather, Water cycle, Niger, Global warming, Sahel


Insufficient growth during childhood is associated with poor health outcomes and an increased risk of death. Between 2000 and 2015, nearly all African countries demonstrated improvements for children under 5 years old for stunting, wasting, and underweight, the core components of child growth failure. Here we show that striking subnational heterogeneity in levels and trends of child growth remains. If current rates of progress are sustained, many areas of Africa will meet the World Health Organization Global Targets 2025 to improve maternal, infant and young child nutrition, but high levels of growth failure will persist across the Sahel. At these rates, much, if not all of the continent will fail to meet the Sustainable Development Goal target-to end malnutrition by 2030. Geospatial estimates of child growth failure provide a baseline for measuring progress as well as a precision public health platform to target interventions to those populations with the greatest need, in order to reduce health disparities and accelerate progress.

Concepts: Public health, Nutrition, Africa, Continent, Poverty, Malnutrition, World Health Organization, Sahel


Over many decades our understanding of the impacts of intermittent drought in water-limited environments like the West African Sahel has been influenced by a narrative of overgrazing and human-induced desertification. The desertification narrative has persisted in both scientific and popular conception, such that recent regional-scale recovery (“regreening”) and local success stories (community-led conservation efforts) in the Sahel, following the severe droughts of the 1970s-1980s, are sometimes ignored. Here we report a study of watershed-scale vegetation dynamics in 260 watersheds, sampled in four regions of Senegal, Mali, and Niger from 1983-2012, using satellite-derived vegetation indices as a proxy for net primary production. In response to earlier controversy, we first examine the shape of the rainfall-net primary production relationship and how it impacts conclusions regarding greening or degradation. We conclude that the choice of functional relationship has little quantitative impact on our ability to infer greening or degradation trends. We then present an approach to analyze changes in long-term (decade-scale) average rain-use efficiency (an indicator of slowly responding vegetation structural changes) relative to changes in interannual-scale rainfall sensitivity (an indicator of landscape ability to respond rapidly to rainfall variability) to infer trends in greening/degradation of the watersheds in our sample regions. The predominance of increasing rain-use efficiency in our data supports earlier reports of a “greening” trend across the Sahel. However, there are strong regional differences in the extent and direction of change, and in the apparent role of changing woody and herbaceous components in driving those temporal trends.

Concepts: Africa, Sahara, Nigeria, West Africa, Niger, Senegal, Sahel, Desertification


Low levels of relative humidity are known to decrease the lifespan of mosquitoes. However, most current models of malaria transmission do not account for the effects of relative humidity on mosquito survival. In the Sahel, where relative humidity drops to levels <20% for several months of the year, we expect relative humidity to play a significant role in shaping the seasonal profile of mosquito populations. Here, we present a new formulation for Anopheles gambiae sensu lato (s.l.) mosquito survival as a function of temperature and relative humidity and investigate the effect of humidity on simulated mosquito populations.

Concepts: Malaria, Africa, Sahara, Anopheles, Mosquito, Mosquito control, Anopheles gambiae, Sahel


The acceleration of ice sheet melting has been observed over the last few decades. Recent observations and modeling studies have suggested that the ice sheet contribution to future sea level rise could have been underestimated in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. The ensuing freshwater discharge coming from ice sheets could have significant impacts on global climate, and especially on the vulnerable tropical areas. During the last glacial/deglacial period, megadrought episodes were observed in the Sahel region at the time of massive iceberg surges, leading to large freshwater discharges. In the future, such episodes have the potential to induce a drastic destabilization of the Sahelian agroecosystem. Using a climate modeling approach, we investigate this issue by superimposing on the Representative Concentration Pathways 8.5 (RCP8.5) baseline experiment a Greenland flash melting scenario corresponding to an additional sea level rise ranging from 0.5 m to 3 m. Our model response to freshwater discharge coming from Greenland melting reveals a significant decrease of the West African monsoon rainfall, leading to changes in agricultural practices. Combined with a strong population increase, described by different demography projections, important human migration flows could be potentially induced. We estimate that, without any adaptation measures, tens to hundreds million people could be forced to leave the Sahel by the end of this century. On top of this quantification, the sea level rise impact over coastal areas has to be superimposed, implying that the Sahel population could be strongly at threat in case of rapid Greenland melting.

Concepts: Africa, Sahara, Nigeria, Climate, Climate change, West Africa, Niger, Sahel