Unprecedented Sahel drought

Clim. Dynam. http://doi.org/cr3n (2018)

Between the 1960s and 1980s severe drought plagued the Sahel, resulting in widespread famine and displacement. Although rainfall has subsequently increased in the region, it is not known whether this is a temporary recovery or part of a longer-term fluctuation. Using stable oxygen isotopes from archaeological shells in the Saloum Delta, Senegal, Matthieu Carré from the LOCEAN Laboratory, France, and colleagues provide a multi-centennial assessment of the Sahelian hydroclimate, placing contemporary changes in a longer-term perspective.

Precipitation is variable throughout the record, but an abrupt rainfall deficit began 200 years ago, and is shown to be unprecedented in the context of the past 1,600 years. Given the coincident timing with the onset of anthropogenic warming, it is suggested that contemporary Sahel drying may be related to human activities. As such, the apparent precipitation recovery observed over the past 15 years is likely to be related to short-term internal variability, implying that drought may become more commonplace in the near future. Further palaeoclimate reconstructions are required to help constrain precipitation projections in the Sahel, and thus minimize future socio-economic impacts through targeted adaptation and mitigation efforts.

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Correspondence to Graham Simpkins.

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Simpkins, G. Unprecedented Sahel drought. Nature Clim Change 8, 662 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0252-4

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