African family - Adobestock/poco

Professor Richard Washington has explained to the BBC World Service why Africa is more vulnerable to the world’s changing weather patterns than any other region. Key parts of the system, such as the Congo Basin, are very understudied: "We know remarkably little about that climate system - it is scarcely even monitored - there are more reporting rain gauges in the UK county of Oxfordshire than the entire Congo Basin," he commented. We share how Richard and other Oxford Geography researchers are working to close the knowledge gap in this area.


African climate systems are controlled by an "extremely complex mix of large-scale weather systems”, explained Richard Washington, as part of a scientific summary on Africa and Climate Change for the BBC. This, coupled with the fact that African societies depend on rainwater for agriculture, makes the continent particularly vulnerable to climate change says Washington.

Growing concern over climate change was reflected in the theme of BBC World Service’s 2019 Komla Dumor award. The prizewinning Ugandan investigative reporter Solomon Serwanjja chose ‘Climate Change in Africa’ as his theme for a panel discussion, which he hosted on ‘Focus on Africa' on 4 December. The BBC and Solomon kindly invited Richard Washington to sit on the panel and to set the scene for the topic of African climate. You can now listen to a recording of ‘Climate Change in Africa’ [from 26 mins].

Washington’s insights, shared with the BBC, were built on the rich research delivered by Oxford Geography’s African climate group. 2019 has been a productive year:

Looking to the future

Although not yet published there are more exciting developments on their way, including work on:

  • The representation of tropical-temperate cloud bands, the most important southern African rainfall producing system, in coupled climate models authored by Rachel James and Neil Hart along with our collaborator Professor Chris Reason in the Department of Oceanographty at the University of Cape Town;
  • representativeness of reanalysis data over Africa (Sebastian Engelstaedter);
  • detailed structure of rains over the Serengeti (Josie Mahony);
  • the structure of the Walker Circulation over East Africa (James King);
  • an insightful analysis of the complicated Long Rains in East Africa (Ellen Dyer);
  • development in the Met Office climate model’s representation of central African climate (Thierry Taguela);
  • and an analysis of evaporative feedbacks in climate models over the Congo Basin (David Crowhurst).
  • Finally, while of lot of African climate research is focused on regions, our collaborators in Cameroon have pioneered links between the central African climate system and southern Africa. This research, led by Giresse Kuete, originates from Dr Wilfried Pokam’s lab at the University of Yaounde 1 in Cameroon.

The work on African climate in SoGE is generously funded by NERC through the Oxford Environmental Research DTP, NERC and DFID through the Future Climate for Africa Programme, in particular UMFULA and IMPALA and through DFID in LaunchPAD and REACH.