Current Research in EEPS: Dr. Chris Funk, University of California, Santa Barbara
At present, two regions of Africa face massive food crises associated with repetitive droughts. In Madagascar and the eastern Horn of Africa, millions of people are experiencing severe hunger, tottering near the edge of famine. Early Warning Systems, powered by climate forecasts and satellite-based observations, are helping agencies like the US Agency for International Development and the World Food Programme provide 100s of millions of dollars in humanitarian relief. An increasingly important component of these early warning systems is the integration of climate change. How is climate change increasing drought risks? Here we focus on two main pathways of risk: increases in air temperatures and increases in sea surface temperatures. The first pathway leads to greater desiccation of vegetation as air temperatures increase. Warmer air has higher saturation vapor pressure values, which lead to greater vapor pressure deficits, which can lead to higher moisture stress for plants, amplifying the impacts of rainfall deficits. The second pathway involves the link between warmer sea surface temperatures, which can produce droughts over tele-connected land areas. After briefly introducing these two conduits, I draw from real-world examples that are currently helping us cope with near-famine conditions in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Madagacar.