Publication Abstracts

Gorniz 1985

Gorniz, V., 1985: A survey of anthropogenic vegetation changes in West Africa during the last century — Climatic implications. Climatic Change, 7, 285-325, doi:10.1007/BF00144172.

The extent of albedo change resulting from anthropogenic modification of the vegetation cover over the last century has been investigated in West Africa. The climatic implications of these changes are briefly discussed.

West Africa spans a suite of vegetation zones ranging latitudinally northward from tropical rainforest to desert scrub, and comprises environmental problems from extremely rapid deforestation of the tropical forests in Ivory Coast or Ghana to desertification in the Sahel.

Historical vegetation changes have been digitized on a 1°×1° grid map based on a literature survey of government censuses, forestry and agricultural reports, supplemented by atlases, and other historical, economic and geographic sources.

The principal processes of land cover modification during the last century include clearing of the natural vegetation for agriculture, grazing, logging, and degradation of marginal semi-arid to arid ecosystems by excessive grazing or cultivation. Forestry surveys for West Africa suggest clearance of around 56% of the forest zone; estimated losses for Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Liberia range between 64% and 70%. Estimates of total land conversion range between 88 million ha, from the digitized land use map to 122.8 million ha, from extrapolation of forestry data.

The change in albedo corresponding to the land use modification is relatively small, using conservative estimates for desertification amounting to an increase of around 0.4% regionally over 100 yr and 0.5% since agriculture began. Thus 4/5 of the total albedo may have occurred within the last century. Additional assumptions regarding desertification and a lower albedo value for tropical forest compensate for each other and do not significantly alter the result of the initial calculation. The maximum zones of increased albedo are concentrated in the forest zone (4°-8°N) and savanna-southern sahel (10°-12°) which correspond to zones of maximum agricultural and population growth. Between 13°N and 17° N, the albedo change is small or negative due to both less intensive land utilization and replacement of scattered vegetation on exposed sandy soil by lower albedo irrigated crops.

These estimates may represent a lower limit, particularly if desertification is more extensive than initially assumed. Under an extreme assumption that the entire Sahel zone between 14°-20°N has been desertified, the regional mean albedo could increase by as much as 4%. This represents an upper limit to likely historical anthropogenic disturbances of the land surface.

Although historical climate records show three major droughts during the 20th century (1910-1920, 1940s, 1969-1975, possibly continuing into the 1980s), and stream flow fluctuations which correlate well with precipitation, these records do not appear to indicate a regional secular decrease in precipitation as suggested by several climate models. Evidence for apparent desiccation or "desert creep" (= "desertification") may be attributed, in large part, to adverse changes in soil and stream hydrology caused by anthropogenic disruption of the vegetation cover.

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BibTeX Citation

  author={Gorniz, V.},
  title={A survey of anthropogenic vegetation changes in West Africa during the last century — Climatic implications},
  journal={Climatic Change},

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RIS Citation

ID  - go01400w
AU  - Gorniz, V.
PY  - 1985
TI  - A survey of anthropogenic vegetation changes in West Africa during the last century — Climatic implications
JA  - Climatic Change
VL  - 7
SP  - 285
EP  - 325
DO  - 10.1007/BF00144172
ER  -

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