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Observed and CMIP5-Simulated Radiative Flux Variability Over West Africa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review



Anna Mackie, Martin Wild, Helen Brindley, Doris Folini, Paul I. Palmer

School/Research organisations


We explore the ability of general circulation models in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) to recreate observed seasonal variability in top‐of‐the‐atmosphere and surface radiation fluxes over West Africa. This tests CMIP5 models' ability to describe the radiative energy partitioning, which is fundamental to our understanding of the current climate and its future changes. We use 15 years of the monthly Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System Energy Balanced and Filled (EBAF) product, alongside other satellite, reanalysis, and surface station products. We find that the CMIP5 multimodel mean is generally within the reference product range, with annual mean CMIP5 multimodel mean—EBAF of −0.5 W m−2 for top‐of‐the‐atmosphere reflected shortwave radiation, and 4.6 W m−2 in outgoing longwave radiation over West Africa. However, the range in annual mean of the model seasonal cycles is large (37.2 and 34.0 W m−2 for reflected shortwave radiation and outgoing longwave radiation, respectively). We use seasonal and regional contrasts in all‐sky fluxes to infer that the representation of the West African monsoon in numerical models affects radiative energy partitioning. Using clear‐sky surface fluxes, we find that the models tend to have more downwelling shortwave and less downwelling longwave radiation than EBAF, consistent with past research. We find models that are drier and have lower aerosol loading tend to show the largest differences. We find evidence that aerosol variability has a larger effect in modulating downwelling shortwave radiation than water vapor in EBAF, while the opposite effect is seen in the majority of CMIP5 models.


Original languageEnglish
JournalEarth and Space Science
Issue number5
Early online date18 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - May 2020

    Research areas

  • TOA radiation flux, CMIP5, West African monsoon, water vapor, aerosols

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