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date: 23 April 2017

Evolving Paradigms of Climatic Processes and Dynamics Affecting Africa

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science. Please check back later for the full article.

Over the last half-century, ideas about meteorology and climate have changed dramatically, particularly for the tropics. As Africa includes the largest continental area in the tropics, our understanding of its climate is very different today from that which prevailed as recently as the 1960s or 1970s. Relevant paradigms have developed in five broad areas: climate and climate classification, tropical climate dynamics, tropical rain-bearing systems, climatic variability and change, and land surface processes and climate. One of the most notable changes is in our definition of climate. Originally viewed as a static, statistical compilation of local weather elements, it is now recognized as an environmental variable with global linkages, multiple time scales of variability, and strong controls via earth surface processes. Similarly, our understanding of tropical rainfall has morphed from the belief in the domination by local thunderstorms to recognition of vast systems on regional to global scales. Our understanding of the interrelationships with land surface processes has also changed markedly, with the Charney hypothesis concerning albedo change giving way to a broader view of land-atmosphere interaction. In summary, there has been a major evolution in the way we understand climate, climatic variability, tropical rainfall regimes and rain-bearing systems, and potential human impacts on African climate.