Proud, SR; Rasmussen, LV (2011). The influence of seasonal rainfall upon Sahel vegetation. REMOTE SENSING LETTERS, 2(3), 241-249.
Throughout the Sahelian region of Africa, vegetation growth displays substantial inter-annual variation, causing widespread concern in the region as rain-fed agriculture and pastoralism are a means of sustenance for the predominantly rural population. Previously proposed factors behind variations include changes in total yearly rainfall, land-use change and migration. But these factors are not fully explanatory. This study addresses other possible factors for variation in vegetation patterns through the analysis of the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) produced by satellite sensors. We focus on precipitation, but instead of looking at the total yearly amount of rainfall, the intra-annual variation is examined. Here we show that plant growth is strongly correlated with the number and frequency of days within the rainy season upon which there is no rainfall. Furthermore, we find that if the start of the growing season, or the period in which the peak growth of vegetation occurs, is especially dry then plant growth may be stunted throughout the remainder of the season. These results enable better understanding of climate dynamics in the Sahel and allow more accurate forecasting of crop yields, carbon storage and landscape changes without the need to resort to rainfall estimates that are sometimes of low accuracy. In addition, it may be possible to apply the results to other dry land regions worldwide.