Filling in Africa’s Climate
Aresearch scientist at Columbia University’sInternational Research Institute for Climate and Society, Dinku is on a mission to integrate Africa’s sparseweather station data withcomprehensive satellite measurements beamed from space. Since then, his quest to improve access toquality climate datahasexpanded across East Africa and the West African Sahel. Dinku estimates it would cost $25 million to scale the ENACTS climate services model across Africa, and ina new paper in the journal Climate and Developmenthe discusses the details.I was born in Ethiopia, in a village near the capital, Addis Ababa. We moved to the south when I was 10, after my father joined the army, and I started school then. It was a drought prone region, and I saw the devastating effects first hand. I witnessed the 1973 74 drought and subsequent army uprising that led to the eventual overthrow of Ethiopia’s emperor, Haile Selassie. Looking at the clouds for rain might have contributed to my becoming a meteorologist. in civil engineering/hydrometrology at the University of Connecticut. I joined Columbia’s IRIafter learning itwas doing applied research and fieldwork across the world, exactly what I was interested in.You’ve spent the last eight years working to fill in gaps in Africa’s weather and climate data. Why?The quality and availability of weather and climate data has declined significantly in the last 40 years due to conflicts and lack of investment. Weather stations for collecting data are unevenly distributed, with many in cities and towns along the main roads. As a result, we know very little about climate trends in rural areas, where communities are most vulnerable to drought, heat waves, and other extreme events. Some countries have good historical data, but haven’t yet digitized the data or made it accessible to people beyond their national meteorological agencies. Wars and civil conflict have also left large gaps in the record. The Rwanda genocide, for example, led to the loss of 15 years of data.Why are consistent climate records so important?They help us understand natural climate cycles and their effect on agriculture, human health, and water supplies, which also influence hydropower capacity. High quality climate data allows us to see how climate varies in one place season to season, and over years and decades, and how common severe droughts and other events have been. Climate models depend on historical data. If the records are incomplete, our climate forecasts are likely to be less accurate.How is ENACTS addressing the data gap?We use satellite data and climate model outputs to supplement the weather station data that countries make available through their national meteorological services. Satellite data has less detail, but helps to fill in geographic gaps as well as gaps through time. We work with the national agencies to help the public to access, analyze, visualize, and download these hybrid datasets through the IRI’s massive Data Library, now available at national met services across Africa. The IRI Data Library receives more than 3 million page views a year from users in dozens of countries.Historical climate data arecritical for investment planning, particularly in regions where climate is changing rapidly. It’s critical to have a baseline to evaluate trends and validate climate models. It’s also useful for building climate resilience, for example, understanding how to prepare for a rising risk of malaria or lower yields of maize.Where have you implemented ENACTS?Ethiopia, Madagascar, Tanzania, Mali, Ghana, The Gambia, Malawi, Rwanda, Zambia, and most recently, Kenya and Uganda. We also work with West and East Africa’s regional climate centers.Ethiopia’s high resolution ENACTS data has allowed researchers to link rising temperatures in the country’s highlands to increased malaria risk. In Zambia, insurance companies have used it to develop more accurate index insurance policies to protect small farmers against drought related crop losses. In Rwanda, a recent analysis found that seasonal forecasts made with ENACTS data are more predictive than forecasts made with other data products.Does this project have a personal appeal?I worked as meteorologist in Ethiopia for more than ten years before coming to the United States. I experienced the frustration of not having enough data or the right data to make the predictions that could help people. Being able to go back and contribute something of value to Ethiopia, my home country and where we first launched ENACTS, gives me great satisfaction.