UCSB geography researchers Chris Funk, Greg Husak and Joel Michaelsen are developing methods to predict droughts in Eastern, Western and Southern Africa by analyzing weather and vegetation conditions in the subject areas.
Researchers collected foliage and climate data from various African countries, tracking wind and precipitation patterns over the Indian and Pacific Oceans over a period of 14 years to formulate more accurate predictions of food shortages that could lead to more efficient and timely transportation of humanitarian aid. The three field researchers — all members of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Famine Early Warning System Network and the Climate Hazards Group — examined conditions in countries that hold the highest risk for food shortages, such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.
Satellite imaging provided a comprehensive survey of seasonal vegetation patterns and sea surface temperatures to reveal major trends, Funk said.
“Our approach is gen- erally based on conver- gence of evidence, using both satellite observa- tions and weather sta- tion data, with the latter being the most impor- tant,” Funk said in an email. “We try to get the most complete set of rainfall gauge observa- tions as possible and then examine these data for changes and year-to-year variations.”
According to Husak, the constant f luctuation of weather conditions in these regions makes it essential that data be collected over an extend- ed period of time.
Funk said the results of these efforts will ease the process of supplying vital provisions before an agricultural situation becomes dire.
“This type of informa- tion gives humanitarian agencies a chance to plan ahead, preposition food aid and economic resourc- es, and organize contin- gency plans,” Funk said. “That way if crop yields and pasture conditions are very poor, they are in a good position to help effectively and provide a timely response.”
Husak said adverse circumstances result in high levels of starvation, since locals primarily rely on indigenous plants that are acutely susceptible to drought damage.
“We’re focused on that area in part because there are a lot of pas- toralists there who rely on rain-fed vegetation, not necessarily just crops but grasses and other plants to support their livestock,” Husak said. “They are particularly vulnerable to these dry events, especially given that they have experi- enced exceptionally dry events for the last couple years — last year being especially bad.”
The study indicated a general decline in rain- fall and land fertility in recent years, with wors- ened conditions during La Niña years, according to Funk.