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A seven-year research programme delving into the mechanisms of the African monsoon will be extended for another ten years, it was announced yesterday.

The African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analyses (AMMA), which began in 2002, was supposed to finish this year.

AMMA scientists from Africa, Europe and the United States unveiled their research on the African monsoon, a period of intense rainfall that provides much of West Africa's rain, in Paris yesterday (10 September).

The monsoon arrives in summer after temperature changes shift moisture-laden winds from the Atlantic Ocean over the land. It depends on a complex relationship between the temperature, pressure and moisture of the oceans, land and atmosphere.

The researchers have found that the onset of the monsoon — an important moment that determines when farmers sow crops — appears to follow the formation of a 'tongue' of cold water in the Gulf of Guinea.

This phenomenon could increase the accuracy of monsoon prediction and improve scientists' understanding of the role of the Atlantic Ocean in its formation.

AMMA will continue to analyse activity in the Gulf of Guinea, with more work planned on weather and climate forecasts and early warning systems, Jean-Luc Redelsperger, chair of AMMA's International Scientific Steering Committee, told SciDev.Net.

Researchers have also discovered that, despite diminished rains in the western Sahel, more water is available in the region in specific situations. Drainage basins and ponds used by pastoralists have benefited from more run-off because less vegetation grows during droughts.

"Meteorological conditions in the Mediterranean and northern Indian Ocean and the variability and the retreat of the monsoon are now also better understood," Redelsperger adds.

The challenge facing scientists now, he says, is to "transform and deepen" the new knowledge and to improve seasonal and intra-seasonal forecasting.

AMMA hope that the studies will be used by West African nations in planning for food security, water, housing, health and overall economic growth.

"What we need now is to ensure that the AMMA knowledge and scientific information reach the public from policymakers to students and researchers," says Redelsperger.

The research was originally presented at AMMA's third annual conference in Burkina Faso earlier this year (20–24 July). More than 500 scientists attended the conference, contributing 440 abstracts, says Redelsperger. Forty per cent of attendees were African.