Table of Contents
ISRN Meteorology
Volume 2013, Article ID 453521, 32 pages
Review Article

The West African Sahel: A Review of Recent Studies on the Rainfall Regime and Its Interannual Variability

Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences Department, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306, USA

Received 23 October 2012; Accepted 20 November 2012

Academic Editors: F. Acs, I. Bordi, and D.-Y. Wang

Copyright © 2013 Sharon E. Nicholson. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The West African Sahel is well known for the severe droughts that ravaged the region in the 1970s and 1980s. Meteorological research on the region has flourished during the last decade as a result of several major field experiments. This paper provides an overview of the results that have ensued. A major focus has been on the West African monsoon, a phenomenon that links all of West Africa. The characteristics and revised picture of the West African monsoon are emphasized. Other topics include the interannual variability of rainfall, the atmospheric circulation systems that govern interannual variability, characteristics of precipitation and convection, wave activity, large-scale factors in variability (including sea-surface temperatures), and land-atmosphere relationships. New paradigms for the monsoon and associated ITCZ and for interannual variability have emerged. These emphasize features in the upper atmosphere, as well as the Saharan Heat Low. Feedback mechanisms have also been emphasized, especially the coupling of convection with atmospheric dynamics and with land surface characteristics. New results also include the contrast between the premonsoon and peak monsoon seasons, two preferred modes of interannual variability (a latitudinal displacement of the tropical rainbelt versus changes in its intensity), and the critical importance of the Tropical Easterly Jet.