The influence of El Niño–Southern Oscillation regimes on eastern African vegetation and its future implications under the RCP8.5 warming scenario
Abstract. The El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is the main driver of the interannual variability in eastern African rainfall, with a 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 eastern African rainfall variability to forecast future eastern 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 teleconnection (EOT) analysis. Then, we simulated the ecosystem carbon and water fluxes 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–eastern African rainfall teleconnection from observed datasets. We further simulated eastern 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 highlights 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 eastern 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.