Simulation of the West African monsoon onset using the HadGEM3-RA regional climate model

Ismaïla Diallo, Caroline L. Bain, Amadou T. Gaye, Wilfran Moufouma-Okia, Coumba Niang, Mame D.B. Dieng, Richard Graham

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The performance of the Hadley Centre Global Environmental Model version 3 regional climate model (HadGEM3-RA) in simulating the West African monsoon (WAM) is investigated. We focus on performance for monsoon onset timing and for rainfall totals over the June-July-August (JJA) season and on the model's representation of the underlying dynamical processes. Experiments are driven by the ERA-Interim reanalysis and follow the CORDEX experimental protocol. Simulations with the HadGEM3 global model, which shares a common physical formulation with HadGEM3-RA, are used to gain insight into the causes of HadGEM3-RA simulation errors. It is found that HadGEM3-RA simulations of monsoon onset timing are realistic, with an error in mean onset date of two pentads. However, the model has a dry bias over the Sahel during JJA of 15-20 %. Analysis suggests that this is related to errors in the positioning of the Saharan heat low, which is too far south in HadGEM3-RA and associated with an insufficient northward reach of the south-westerly low-level monsoon flow and weaker moisture convergence over the Sahel. Despite these biases HadGEM3-RA's representation of the general rainfall distribution during the WAM appears superior to that of ERA-Interim when using Global Precipitation Climatology Project or Tropical Rain Measurement Mission data as reference. This suggests that the associated dynamical features seen in HadGEM3-RA can complement the physical picture available from ERA-Interim. This approach is supported by the fact that the global HadGEM3 model generates realistic simulations of the WAM without the benefit of pseudo-observational forcing at the lateral boundaries; suggesting that the physical formulation shared with HadGEM3-RA, is able to represent the driving processes. HadGEM3-RA simulations confirm previous findings that the main rainfall peak near 10°N during June-August is maintained by a region of mid-tropospheric ascent located, latitudinally, between the cores of the African Easterly Jet and Tropical Easterly Jet that intensifies around the time of onset. This region of ascent is weaker and located further south near 5°N in the driving ERA-Interim reanalysis, for reasons that may be related to the coarser resolution or the physics of the underlying model, and this is consistent with a less realistic latitudinal rainfall profile than found in the HadGEM3-RA simulations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)575-594
Number of pages20
JournalClimate Dynamics
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Aug 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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