Professor Richard Washington

Professor of Climate Science

Academic Profile

Richard Washington is Professor of Climate Science at the School of Geography and the Environment and Fellow of Keble College, Oxford. His specializes in African climate science and runs the African Climate research group.

He has degrees from the University of Natal and University of Oxford and has taught previously at the University of Natal, University of Stellenbosch and the University of Cape Town where he spent five years as a lecturer. His doctorate was on Africa-wide rainfall variability and change, which was undertaken jointly between the University of Oxford under Professor Alayne Street-Perrott and Professor Chris Folland's group at the Hadley Centre of the UK Meteorological Office. During this time he was a lecturer at Christ Church, Oxford. He took up a Departmental Lectureship at Oxford in 1995, a University Lectureship position and Fellowship at Keble College in 1999, a Readership in 2006 and was made Professor of Climate Science in 2010.

Richard's research is concerned with the African climate systems, including climate change, the mechanisms leading to floods and drought and the way these characteristics of climate are represented in climate models. He has also worked extensively on aerosols, particularly so on dust storms in the central Sahara and in southern Africa. He has run major observational campaigns involving both ground observations and instrumented aircraft in North and southern Africa. He is primarily funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Richard was Co-Chair World Climate Research Program African Climate Variability Panel (CLIVAR-VACS) 2006-2010 and served as a panel member of CLIVAR-VACS from 2003-2006. Richard leads the development of the CLIVAR Africa Climate Atlas. He has served as the World Climate Research Program representative to the International Council for Science southern Africa as well as membership of several external steering committees including AFRICANNESS (African Earth System Science) and the Stockholm Environment Institute-Oxford. He was one of 12 members of the NERC Climate Science Strategy Panel for the 2007-2012 NERC Science Strategy. He has taught on several World Climate Program "Climate Information and Prediction Services (CLIPS)" Workshops, including Nairobi, Niamey, Dar Es Salaam, Qatar and Tunis. He has served on the panel of judges for the Best Research Paper (SA Society for Atmospheric Scientists) from 2003-2009 and on the management board of several large climate programmes, including AMMAII, and the Climate Science Research Partnership between the Met Office and DFID. He has been an IPCC author in numerous assessment reports including Working Group 1 (Observations of climate change) and Working Group II (Africa).

Richard is an associate of Climate Change Risk Management and is Director of the Radcliffe Meteorology Station, the longest known continuous daily meteorological record with daily observations in Oxford since 1815.

Current Research

Richard has served as Principal Investigator of the £3.3m NERC Consortium Fennec - The Saharan Climate System, Principal Investigator of the £1.1m NERC research grant Dust Observations for Models, and the Co-Investigator of BoDEx (Bodele Dust Experiment). He is currently the Oxford Principal Investigator on the Future Climate for Africa UMFULA (Uncertainty Reduction in Models for Understanding Development Applications) and IMPALA (Improving Model Processes for African Climate) projects. FCFA is a c£20m programme. Richard is also a Co-Investigator of the CLARIFY (Clouds and Aerosol Radiative Impacts and Forcing Year 2016) project and the water security project 'Reach'.

There are two primary themes to this research, all of which has an African focus, namely African climate change and dust storms.

Dust Storms

Dust impacts the climate system through its interaction with radiation, clouds, weather systems and nutrient cycling. Quantifying these interactions is an ongoing concern of dust research generally. The main projects around which Richard's work has been based are BoDEx, Fennec, DO4Models and CLARIFY-2016. A key concern of Richard's research is diagnosing the controls on mineral aerosol (dust) emission and transport from the key global sources. A feature of these programmes is major field observational campaigns to remote areas where the dust sources are located. This work has included field experiments in the world's largest source of mineral aerosols, the Bodélé Depression Chad (BodEx field experiment) for which he was co-PI. (see article in Nature). He was one of the co-authors to be awarded the Environmental Research Letters Outstanding Article Award in 2007 for a paper on Bodélé dust and the Amazon basin. An important outcome of BoDEx included the identification of the Bodélé Low Level Jet, a strong wind which is crucial to the emission of dust from the basin (see Washington and Todd, 2005, Geophysical Research Letters and Washington et al 2006; Journal of Geophysical Research).

Richard Washington in the Bodele Depression.
Richard Washington in the Bodele Depression, Chad during the BoDEx field campaign. This part of Chad is interesting for many reasons, including the remnants of the Toyota Wars with Libya

More recently the work on dust has been built around the Fennec and DO4Models programmes which Richard leads. Fennec is the first major programme to recover meteorological observations from the data void of the central Sahara. Over the years 2011 and 2012 Fennec led to the deployment of about 30 tons of ground-based instruments and equipment in the central Sahara, including a large collection of observations on the border of Mali and Algeria at Bordj Badi Mokhtar and at Zouerat in Mauritania. The project also involved >200 hours of flying, many at low level, over the central Sahara in the NERC/Met Office instrumented Bae-146 aircraft. Together the ground-based instruments and aircraft flights provided the first insights into the dynamics of dust, low level jets, cold-pool outflows from deep thunderstorms and the Saharan heat low. The weather and climate of the Sahara, in turn, forms a vital part of the West African Monsoon. The Fennec programme is summarised in this short film on youtube

Oxford Postgraduate Chris Allen
Oxford Postgraduate Chris Allen - mission scientist on a Fennec flight in the central Sahara
Southern edge of Erg Chech
One of the low level flights over the southern edge of Erg Chech near the Algeria-Mali border

The DO4Models project which has been based on Sua Pan in Botswana, the dry river valleys and Etosha Pan in Namibia covering the period 2011-2015. The main aim of DO4Models was to gain observations of dust in the field in dust source areas with which to confront climate models which generally have poor specification of point source dust emission. The CLARIFY project will take the work in Namibia forward over the next few years.

One of the DO4Models field sites at Sossusvlei
One of the DO4Models field sites at Sossusvlei in Namibia.

African Climate Change

Through the recently funded projects IMPALA, UMFULA and Reach, Richard also has a research focus on African climate change, in particular evaluating how mechanisms of rainfall are represented in global and regional climate models and how these mechanisms work in the real world. This interest has extended to the preparation of climate variability and change assessments and future scenarios of African and tropical climate for a variety of government agencies and NGOs.

For further details on current research, see:


Research Funding

Current and Recent research funding includes:

  • CLARIFY - Clouds and Aerosol Radiative Impacts and Forcing Year 2016 (NERC large-grant, Co-I)
  • UMFULA - Uncertainty Reduction in Models for Understanding Development Applications (NERC, Oxford PI)
  • IMPALA - Improving Model Processes for African Climate (NERC, Oxford PI)
  • Reach - Improving Water Security for the poor (DFID, Oxford Co-).
  • Fennec - The Saharan Climate System (NERC consortium grant, PI, 3.5m GBP total);
  • DO4Models - Dust Observations for Models (NERC joint grant, PI, 1.1m GBP total);
  • Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, PI Climate Outlooks;
  • CCAFS - Analysis of Climate Models and climate trends in Africa, 2011-2012, PI, 100K;
  • RGS Gilchrist Award, PI on Bodélé Dust Experiment;
  • DFID African Climate Report; and
  • DFID Climate Risk Kenya.

Research Team


Teaching and Supervision

Richard received the University of Oxford teaching excellence award in 2010.

He is the external examiner for the Climate Change MSc at the University of East Anglia and the undergraduate physical geography course and UCD, Ireland.


Richard has chaired the Final Honour School Exam Board in Oxford over the period 2014-2016 inclusive.

Undergraduate Teaching

Richard teaches the 'Climatology' and 'Earth Observation and Application in Geography' courses for the Preliminary Examination.

He lectures on 'Observed Climate Change, Climate Models and Climate Change Detection, Attribution and Prediction' as part of the 'Earth Systems Dynamics' second year course. He convenes the Climate Change and Variability optional course which covers the General Circulation, Modes of Climate Variability, Seasonal Prediction, aerosols, African climate and Climate Models.

Postgraduate Teaching

Professor Washington teaches on two MSc programmes - MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management and MSc in Environmental Change and Management. He teaches the tropical climate system as part of the NERC Doctoral Training Programme in Oxford.

Current Graduate Research Students

Thomas Caton Harrison

Variability of the dust-emitting low-level jet in the central and western Sahara through boreal summer

David Crowhurst

Dynamics Controlling the Seasonal Cycle of Congo Basin Evaporation

James A. King

Rainfall Dynamics and Change in East Africa: Tackling the 'Climate Paradox'

Josie Mahoney Links between East African Climate and wildlife

Recent Graduate Research Students (since 2006)

Boipelo Tshwene-Mauchaza
Completed DPhil in 2021

A re-design of Chobe National Park management system to optimise effectiveness under climate change: systems thinking approach

Amy Creese
Completed DPhil in 2019

Climate change in the Congo Basin: evaluating coupled models

Callum Munday
Completed DPhil in 2019

Representation of southern African climate in coupled models

Selected Publications

For details of Professor Richard Washington's publications, please see his ORCID profile.

Moihamette, F., Pokam, W., Diallo, I. and Washington, R. (2024) Climate Dynamics, pp. 1–21.
1996167 - Response of regional circulation features to the I...
Kuete, G., Mba, W., James, R., Dyer, E., Annor, T. and Washington, R. (2023) Climate Dynamics, 60(9-10), pp. 2907–2929.
1279362 - How do coupled models represent the African Easter...
Taguela, T., Pokam, W. and Washington, R. (2022) International Journal of Climatology, 42(12), pp. 6311–6331.
1246363 - Rainfall in uncoupled and coupled versions of the ...
Wiggs, G., Baddock, M., Thomas, D., Washington, R., Nield, J., Engelstaedter, S., Bryant, R., Eckardt, F., von Holdt, J. and Kotting, S. (2022) Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, 127(8).
1273170 - Quantifying mechanisms of aeolian dust emission: f...
Munday, C., Engelstaedter, S., Ouma, G., Ogutu, G., Olago, D., Ong’ech, D., Lees, T., Wanguba, B., Nkatha, R., Ogolla, C., Gàlgalo, R., Dokata, A., Kirui, E., Hope, R. and Washington, R. (2022) Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 103(8), pp. e1828 - e1842.
1279634 - Observations of the Turkana Jet and the East Afric...
Moihamette, F., Pokam, W., Diallo, I. and Washington, R. (2022) International Journal of Climatology, 42(10), pp. 5255–5272.
1239890 - Extreme Indian Ocean dipole and rainfall variabili...
Annor, T., Lamptey, B. and Washington, R. (2022) Theoretical and Applied Climatology, 148(1-2), pp. 779–794.
1246364 - Assessment of the unified model in reproducing Wes...
Taguela, T., Pokam, W., Dyer, E., James, R. and Washington, R. (2022) Climate Dynamics, pp. 1–19.
1273147 - Low-level circulation over Central Equatorial Afri...
Harrison, T., Washington, R., Engelstaedter, S., Jones, R. and Savage, N. (2021) Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 126(23).
1228893 - Influence of Orography Upon Summertime Low?Level J...
King, J. and Washington, R. (2021) Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 126(17).
1191527 - Future changes in the Indian Ocean Walker Circulat...