Reassessing the impact of North Atlantic Oscillation on the sub-Saharan vegetation productivity


Dr G. Wang, tel. 860 486 5648, e-mail:


The Northern Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) has been shown to have a significant impact on the terrestrial ecosystem in the Sahelian region of Africa during the 1980s, and it has been strongly suggested that NAO may be a reliable predictor for the response of the Sahelian ecosystem to global climate variability. Using data from an extended period, we provide a reassessment for the impact of NAO on the Sahelian climate and ecosystem, and show that there is no consistent relationship between NAO and the ecosystem over Sahel. Statistical analysis on the NAO, vegetation, and precipitation data indicates that NAO influences the Sahelian vegetation productivity exclusively through its impact on precipitation. However, the relationship between the NAO index and Sahelian precipitation varies substantially with time. The correlation coefficient fluctuates between positive and negative values, and does not pass the 5% significance test during most of the twentieth century. The NAO system, although documented to govern the ecosystem dynamics over many other regions, does not have a consistent impact on the ecosystem over the Sahel. Therefore, the NAO index cannot produce a useful prediction on the ecosystem variability and changes in this region. This study provides an example that correlations based on short climate and ecological records (less than 20 years in this case) can be spurious and potentially misleading.