Djiboutians will visit Yale to discuss East African climate task force

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A delegation from the East African nation of Djibouti will visit Yale March 23-25 to meet with experts at the Yale Climate & Energy Institute (YCEI) and discuss plans to develop the first high-resolution climate model for East Africa and Arabia.

A strong ally of the United States, the Republic of Djibouti occupies a strategically important position in the Horn of Africa, between Yemen, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia.

Nabil Mohamed, Djibouti’s minister of higher education, will be accompanied by senior Djiboutian scientists and legal advisers; the deputy head of the Horn of Africa Environmental Center (HoA-REC); and Ethan Chorin, ’91, whose firm, Perim Associates, has been working with the government of Djibouti for more than a year to organize a regional summit on environmental resilience. Supported by the World Bank, the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa, HoA-REC, and various corporations, that event is expected to launch several international partnerships, including the proposed YCEI East Africa Climate Impact Assessment Taskforce.

“Djibouti is sometimes overlooked because of its small size and rough adjoining neighborhoods,” Chorin said, “but the country’s leadership has consistently shown a desire to innovate and to think big within its means. The Yale-Djibouti climate project is a case in point.”

While at Yale, the delegation will meet with Mark Pagani, director of YCEI and a professor of geology and geophysics, and members of the task force, as well as representatives of various Yale departments. Discussions will include integrating results from the proposed high-resolution climate simulations with other modeling efforts to predict the severity of future health pandemics and possible food crises.

“Our proposal to study East African climate and the potential collaborations with researchers from Djibouti and the surrounding region is significant,” Pagani said. “No one has evaluated future impacts to East African climate — monsoons, sea level rise, and aridification — at this scale.”

Pagani noted that standard general circulation models are global in scale, requiring enormous computing power to consider a planet’s worth of atmospheric and oceanic fluid mechanics. That explains why most models generate coarse outputs describing average conditions over grids that are hundreds of kilometers on each side, and therefore of limited utility for long-range planning purposes.

The Yale task force approach produces more precise information by using a general circulation model to generate initial and boundary conditions for driving the Weather and Research Forecasting model (WRF), which simulates regional climate at much higher resolutions (in grids of less than 10 kilometers on each side). WRF results, in turn, feed ecosystem, economy, agriculture, and infectious disease models, allowing health officials and the agricultural sector, for example, to anticipate conditions that potentially foster disease or ruin crops. Identifying trends in temperature and precipitation extremes allows officials to make informed decisions regarding mitigation strategies that can impact the environment, local land and water resources, transportation, and biodiversity.

Given that a recent National Academy of Sciences report suggests that climate change has made droughts such as the one afflicting Syria two to three times more likely, studies such as the one contemplated by the government of Djibouti and the Yale task force may be critical to forging a secure future, said Pagani.

(Photo via Shutterstock)

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