Fire and Climate in Africa
Fire is ubiquitous in Africa’s drylands and may modify the pathways by which moisture and energy enter the atmosphere. Landscape scale burns destroy vegetation and darken the land surface, lowering evapotranspiration and increasing sensible heat flux. If present at a large enough scale, heterogeneous burned areas could induce mesoscale circulations that enhance convection and, possibly, rainfall. Graduate student Michael Saha and professors Todd Scanlon and Paolo D’Odorico are investigating how a legacy of dry season fires influences the onset and evolution of the rainy season in Africa’s driest regions. Field-based measurements, modeling and remote sensing data are being used to assess the hypothesis that fire-induced heterogeneity enhances subsequent precipitation. The results of this work will further our knowledge of land-atmosphere feedbacks and is key to understanding the variability and predictability of rainfall where water is scarce.