Fennec - The Saharan Climate System

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sussex
Department Name: Sch of Global Studies


The central Sahara has one of the most extreme climates on Earth. During the northern summer months, a large low pressure system caused by intense sunshine develops over a huge, largely uninhabited expanse of northern Mali, southern Algeria and eastern Mauritania. Temperatures in the high 40s are normal and uplift of dry air through more than 6000m of the atmosphere is routine in what is thought to be the deepest such layer on the planet. This large zone is also where the thickest layer of dust anywhere in the Earth's atmosphere is to be found. Although the central Sahara is extremely remote, it turns out to be vitally important to the world's weather and climate. The large low pressure system drives the West African Monsoon and the dry, dusty air layers are closely related to the tropical cyclones which form over the Atlantic Ocean. Likewise, the dusty air has a strong influence on the way the atmosphere is heated, a process which is poorly understood. It is not surprising that the models we use to predict weather and climate and which are a crucial tool for understanding how the atmosphere works, all have problems in dealing with the central Sahara. Insights into how the climate system works, improving the models and therefore the predictions have all been held back in the case of the Sahara by a lack of measurements of the atmosphere and the processes that make dust and extreme weather. This will always be the case until a team goes to the central Sahara and makes these measurements. A key part of this proposal aims to do just that. We want to set up an array of special instruments, at the surface in two carefully chosen places in the central Sahara, which will monitor the winds, temperatures, dust and so on for an entire year. We will add to this collection for a shorter period of even more intense measurements during the core summer month of June. We plan also to fly a instruments attached to an aeroplane overhead the surface array and across the desert so that we can get an idea of the structure of the atmosphere and how it changes through the day. To find out how dust storms work, we will leave 10 weather stations at places where we think dust storms happen frequently. Satellites play an essential role in measuring weather and climate and are especially useful in remote places. The best available information from satellites will help to quantify how weather and climate works in the Sahara. We also expect to improve the way the satellites are able to make their measurements too. Because models are so important to understanding and predicting weather, we will make heavy use of them in this work. We want to know how well the models work over the Sahara and what can be done to improve them. We are especially interested in seeing whether the models work better if we allow them to deal with small parts of the climate system or whether we can still represent extreme places in the Sahara by ignoring these details in the models.


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Washington R (2013) The Fennec Automatic Weather Station (AWS) Network: Monitoring the Saharan Climate System in Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology

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Gross A (2015) Variability in Sources and Concentrations of Saharan Dust Phosphorus over the Atlantic Ocean in Environmental Science & Technology Letters

Title Airborne atmospheric measurements from core instrument suite on board the BAE-146 aircraft 
Description Observations of atmospheric structure and composition over the Sahara desert 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Numerous publications 
URL http://catalogue.ceda.ac.uk/uuid/69835240982f4aee9f9038a6414e02c1