M.F.Courel; R.S. Kandel ; S.I. Rasool

Nature 307, 528 – 531 (09 February 1984)

The persistence of the Sahel drought, which reached a peak in 1973, appears to be typical for such dry episodes over past decades and centuries. Such strong persistence can be understood if a strong positive feedback mechanism is operating, partly driven by changes in surface properties. The key factors in the mechanisms thus far studied are the surface albedo and the soil moisture, both of which affect the radiation balance at the surface, the first directly, the second indirectly through its influence on the latent heat flux. We have now studied the evolution of the albedo of this region since 1972. We find that dry season albedo in the Sahel (notably Ferlo and Gondo regions) declined from a maximum close to 0.30 in 1973 to values close to 0.20 in 1979. This decline is consistent with changes in plant cover determined by analysis of spectral changes in the Landsat multispectral scanner (MSS) data and field studies.