• gravimetry;
  • hydrology;
  • land surface models;
  • West Africa;
  • Sahel

[1] Land water storage plays a fundamental role in the West African water cycle and has an important impact on climate and on the natural resources of this region. However, measurements of land water storage are scarce at regional and global scales and especially in poorly instrumented endorheic regions, such as most of the Sahel, where little useful information can be derived from river flow measurements and basin water budgets. The Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission provides an accurate measurement of the terrestrial gravity field variations from which land water storage variations can be derived. However, their retrieval is not straightforward, and different methods are employed, which results in different water storage GRACE products. On the other hand, water storage can be estimated by land surface modeling forced with observed or satellite-based boundary conditions, but such estimates can be highly model dependent. In this study, land water storage by six GRACE products and soil moisture estimations by nine land surface models (run within the framework of the African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analysis Land Surface Intercomparison Project (ALMIP)) are evaluated over West Africa, with a particular focus on the Sahelian area. The water storage spatial distribution, including zonal transects, its seasonal cycle, and its and interannual variability, are analyzed for the years 2003–2007. Despite the nonnegligible differences among the various GRACE products and among the different models, a generally good agreement between satellite and model estimates is found over the West Africa study region. In particular, GRACE data are shown to reproduce well the water storage interannual variability over the Sahel for the 5 year study period. The comparison between satellite estimates and ALMIP results leads to the identification of processes needing improvement in the land surface models. In particular, our results point out the importance of correctly simulating slow water reservoirs as well as evapotranspiration during the dry season for accurate soil moisture modeling over West Africa.