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Giannini’s Sahel Junk Science

December 17, 2017

By Paul Homewood



Alessandra Giannini

Another recipient of President Macron’s largesse is Alessandra Giannini, Research Scientist at Columbia University.

Her speciality is studying effects of warming oceans on Africa’s Sahel region.

According to the Washington Post:

“I jumped at the promise of a five-year contract!” said Alessandra Giannini, a professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute who studies the effects of warming oceans on Africa’s Sahel region.

She saw Macron’s video and, weary of short-term grants and worried about growing budget pressures in the United States, applied.  “I am a midcareer scientist almost entirely supported by federal research grants. My contract with the university is renewed yearly contingent on funding,” she said in an email.


Giannini’s research has conclusively demonstrated that the persistent drought that afflicted the Sahel region in the 1970s and 1980s could be tied to rising sea surface temperatures worldwide. That meant there was no need to blame local population pressures on the environment to explain the drought.

Recently, she has examined what portion of surface temperature changes can be ascribed to fossil fuel burning. “In the case of the Sahel, it’s looking more and more like the combination of greenhouse gases and aerosols specific to the second half of the 20th century played an important role in drought,” she wrote.

Giannini plans to do an additional 15 to 20 years of research — “I love my job!” she wrote. But she said over the past 15 to 20 years, it had already become harder to obtain federal funding, “meaning many more proposals to submit and resubmit, which ultimately fragments work into bits too small to be able to find some cohesion, and time to think about the big picture questions.”

With budget pressures and the prioritizing of defense spending over discretionary spending, and “the savage tax cuts for the rich that are making the rounds of Congress,” she said it wasn’t hard to see “blood and tears coming our way.”



This statement tells us much:

1) The likes of Giannini are almost solely reliant on federal research grants

2) This, despite the hype, has little to do with Trump. It has been getting harder to obtain funding for the last 15 to 20 years, according to her.

3) The final paragraph shows up her far left views, and also the selfish greed of herself and her colleagues, who seem to believe they have a right to gold plated, guaranteed federal grants, regardless of whatever junk they produce, and without having to properly justify them.

4) This whole business has little to with the advance of science, and everything to do with money grubbing.



But what about her scientific work?

Last year she wrote this article for the International Institute for Environment and Development:


What caused the great Sahelian drought of the 1970s and 80s? For the past 10 or so years, state-of-the-art climate models have consistently shown how the shift from the anomalously wet conditions that characterised the 1950s and 60s, to persistent drought in the 1970s and 80s, actually happened.

There have been two starkly contrasting arguments. The first long-held view points to unsustainable human activity, exacerbated by rapid population growth, triggering a downward spiral of environmental decline. Local people are responsible: they have overgrazed, exceeded the ‘carrying capacity’ of pastoral land, cultivated ‘marginal’ agricultural land, and cut wood for fuel.

Stripping away vegetation from the land and degrading the soils may have changed the winds in the region in a way that perpetuated the drought.

The second suggests that the origin of drought is in the oceans, and that industrialisation may be to blame.

But could oceans have really caused the Sahelian drought? As counterintuitive as it may seem there is a simple physical explanation.



Changes in the surface temperature of the oceans

The climate of the semi-arid Sahel is characterised by extreme seasonality. For most of the year, it does not rain at all. Streams and ponds run dry, and even the majestic Niger river hesitates.

Then, as the sun passes overhead and land warms, the monsoon presses northward, feeding moisture-laden air, because of its oceanic origin, inwards to the dry continent, bringing rain – at times torrential – for three to four months, before retreating southward again.

For rain to occur the air that rises needs to be moist. As it rises, a parcel of air cools and condenses the moisture in it, which falls out as rain. The ocean is at an advantage compared to land, because parcels of air that evaporate from the ocean are rich in moisture.

In contrast, especially at the beginning of the rainy season, a parcel of air rising from the dry surface of the semi-arid Sahel will have little moisture of its own, apart from that which has been imported from the ocean, thousands of kilometres away, with the monsoon.

Subtle changes in the surface temperatures of the oceans can upset this balance.

A warmer ocean may become wetter, by evaporating more and raining more locally, essentially drawing moisture away from the land.

By contrast, a cooler ocean would feed less moisture to the monsoon, and end up drying the land. Both these phenomena are implicated in the drying of the Sahel that emerged in the early 1970s.

Greenhouse gas-induced warming of the oceans, most notably the Indian Ocean, began to emerge at the same time that the North Atlantic Ocean stayed relatively cool, due in major part to the influence of sulfate aerosols that reflect solar radiation. These sulfates were the product of emissions from long-standing industrialisation in Europe and North America.



Evidence from climate modelling – testing the theories

Global models of the atmosphere simulate the large-scale climatic shift towards prolonged drought in the Sahel when run over 20th century observations of global sea surface temperatures only, that is, given no information on local land use change. ‘Coupled’ models – simultaneously simulating changes in the atmosphere and ocean – produce the same pattern. This confirms the influence of the oceans in the changing rainfall trends in the Sahel.

What is less clear is how far anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols from industrialisation have caused these changes as the ‘coupled model’ simulations typically include our best estimates of both natural and anthropogenic influences.



Let’s leave aside the patently absurd assertion that both warmer and colder oceans both apparently lead to drought.

What immediately stands out is that she is keen to blame everything on industrialisation. One could almost surmise that this has dominated her thinking from the start. As such it would potentially heavily bias her results.

But let’s look at rainfall trends in the Sahel first.


Observed rainfall trends in the Sahel.

JAS Sahel rainfall in three observational datasets, plotted as anomalies from the 1979-1998 average, and linear trends over the span of the datasets; TS3p1 and Hulme are gridded products of the Climate Research Unit, while the Global Historical Climatology Network provides individual stations that are simply averaged across the Sahel, without any attempt at dealing with inhomogeneity in the coverage.



This is from a paper by M Biasutti, “Forced Sahel rainfall trends in the CMIP5 archive”.

It states:

Rainfall in the Sahel has experienced substantial multidecadal swings and an overall reduction during the course of the 20th century (Figure 1). Paleoclimate records indicate that North Africa has suffered prolonged droughts before.

Although the period of the graph is far to short to be conclusive, there is an indication here of a cyclical pattern.

We can clearly see the severe drought in the 1970s and 80s, as well as the unusually wet period that preceded it. But it is also apparent that rainfall levels since are similar to those in the early 20thC.

So are we seeing anything other than natural variability?

If we focus on the 1970s drought, climatologists at the time were confident they knew the cause. HH Lamb for instance wrote that the post 1940 cooling in the Northern Hemisphere, combined with a much colder Arctic, shifted weather belts away from the poles.

The sub tropical anticyclones associated with the desert belts were correspondingly displaced towards the equator. As a consequence rainfall increased in Africa near the equator, while drought began to effect areas near the fringe of the desert belt, no longer visited in summer by equatorial rains.

This did not only affect Africa. In India, for instance, the monsoons tended to not go as far north during this cooling period, leaving those parts almost as badly affected as the Sahel.

There is strong evidence for this explanation. It is well established that water levels in lakes close to the equator in Africa were much higher during the Little Ice Age, whilst those nearer the Sahara were lower than now.

For instance, Lamb writes:



HH Lamb: Climate, History and the Modern World – pp235-6



None of this is rocket science. Lamb and his contemporaries did not need computer models, they simply did the hard slog of sifting through the evidence.

Our friend Giannini would rather blame it all on man, or more particularly the West. She claims that the drought resulted from the cooling effect on the Atlantic of sulfate aerosols.

In fact she has no need to dream up these fake theories, because it was the AMO that was responsible, a perfectly natural cycle that has been occurring for at least the last thousand years.

If this is typical of her work, the US are well rid of her. As for Macron, a fool and his money are easily parted!

  1. Joe Public permalink
    December 17, 2017 7:43 pm

    A couple of years ago, a blogger wrote about the greening of the Sahal:

    Three years prior to that, the same blogger put African droughts In perspective:

  2. Broadlands permalink
    December 17, 2017 8:07 pm

    “Publish or perish”. Publish junk and be rewarded with more funding. She seems to have “conclusively demonstrated” that, if nothing else.

    • The Rick permalink
      December 18, 2017 2:56 pm

      Pal review with previously formulated conclusions – now all she need do is collect the data that supports that conclusion – cha-ching (and throw in a little Trump bashing)

  3. December 17, 2017 8:10 pm

    One astonishing thing about “Global Warming” research is the deafening silence about its funding, which can only mean one thing … they get more money than they know what to do with. This is the first evah complaint I’ve seen evah about a lack of funding.

    • dave permalink
      December 18, 2017 8:23 am

      In the end, you always run out of other peoples’ money. It was a sad day and a happy day when my parents said “Emigrate! It is what the British Empire is for!” Sad for me and happy for…

  4. December 17, 2017 8:36 pm

    Found this, a rare paper that makes no mention of models or of CO2, but that confirms the influence of the AMO:

    “The impact of the AMO on the West African monsoon annual cycle” (sadly pay-walled, but the abstract is worth a read):

  5. John Palmer permalink
    December 17, 2017 10:19 pm

    I particularly liked those ‘state-of-the-art climate models’!
    The art(s) of promoting the modeller’s anti-west ideals and – the main ‘art’, that of extracting yet more taxpayers dollars/pounds/euros in order to perpetuate the scams.
    Whatever, I can’t see a long and successful career ahead for silly Macron.

    • Gamecock permalink
      December 18, 2017 4:47 pm

      And all previous studies used models that are not state of the art. Invalidating all til now.

  6. RAH permalink
    December 17, 2017 10:55 pm

    How come so many “climate scientists” look like the kind of people that were always made fun of, teased, or had pranks pulled on them in High School?

    • Paddy permalink
      December 19, 2017 7:15 am

      Same as witch doctors.

  7. John F. Hultquist permalink
    December 17, 2017 11:31 pm

    This has zero to do with Alessandra’s research.
    The photo appears to show her eyes are a bit like mine.
    That is, both work but not together. Therefore binocular vision is not possible and one’s brain has to compensate.
    I might be seeing something that isn’t there.
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    A bit less off topic: If one looks at the area northeast of Bamako (use Google Earth or similar) there is a green area known as the Inner Niger Delta, It is an area of fluvial wetlands, lakes and floodplains in the semi-arid Sahel area of central Mali.

    Inneer Niger Delta

    There is interesting geography in this region:

    Geography – river capture

    When the French controlled this area, they, in the 1930s, instituted enhanced irrigation projects, roads, and railroads. I heard years ago they also provided some electricity. Some of that history is here:

    When France ruled

    Anyway, there is much to learn about this region.

  8. BLACK PEARL permalink
    December 18, 2017 12:18 am

    So they get taken on / appointed to produce a report on a subject and presumably the first question is “what do you want this report to say” ?

    • dave permalink
      December 18, 2017 8:30 am

      It is like the joke about the three accountants being interviewed by a Board of Directors. They give each to each accountant the same Trial Balance and ask “What do see?” The first replies “A loss of about a million,” the second “A loss of about a million,” the third “What do want me to see?”

    • Gerry, England permalink
      December 18, 2017 5:14 pm

      They never need to ask this question as they alwyas know the answer.

  9. Curious George permalink
    December 18, 2017 12:30 am

    France needs many of these scientists. Thank you, President Macron.

  10. December 18, 2017 1:05 am


    Just saw THIS and am …. like… pffffff…….

  11. markl permalink
    December 18, 2017 1:25 am

    No surprise here. Can you say opportunist? “..I am a midcareer scientist almost entirely supported by federal research grants. My contract with the university is renewed yearly contingent on funding….”

    • mikewaite permalink
      December 18, 2017 9:00 am

      So she does not have tenure . After such a glittering career so far , why not?

      • hivemind permalink
        December 21, 2017 11:50 am

        Tenure appears to be getting much harder to obtain… for one thing, you need to do actual science.

        “State of the art computer models” – Pfft.

  12. December 18, 2017 7:08 am

    I’m still waiting for an explanation from one these many top “climate scientists” showing the physics of “Greenhouse gas-induced warming of the oceans”. I’ve been waiting many years, so I guess I’ll have to continue waiting for a full explanation of this settled science. In the meantime I’ll continue to think that it’s the sun what did it.

    • A C Osborn permalink
      December 18, 2017 9:03 pm

      You should ask the great and Mighty Willis Eshenbach, he will tell you it is down to CO2, with a little sunshine thrown in.

  13. Gray permalink
    December 18, 2017 7:44 am

    Great to see in the Washington Post that the scientists will work in France but keep their chairs in US Universities.
    More unnecessary CO2 generating air travel on expenses then.
    But of course they’re on a mission to show us idiots the error of our ways.
    Anyone done a carbon cost analysis of the endless rounds of world junkets to discuss how to cut back CO2?

  14. Bitter&twisted permalink
    December 18, 2017 8:26 am

    Like the Parmesan pollock, this Gianini gonad has the socialist look and writing style, unique to climate “scientists”.

  15. Phoenix44 permalink
    December 18, 2017 8:34 am

    So she has a theory and builds a model that replicates her theory and then says her theory is proven?

    Truly wonderful science.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      December 18, 2017 1:40 pm

      “Truly wonderful science”. Quite so, Phoenix44. She proposes her warming-seas hypothesis which, it is claimed “has conclusively demonstrated that the persistent drought that afflicted the Sahel region in the 1970s and 1980s could be tied to rising sea surface temperatures worldwide”, yet I cannot see any evidence that she has nullified the original hypothesis that Sahel drought is a feature of population size, lifestyle and over-use of wood for fuel.
      For her hypothesis to be accepted then it is incumbent on her to nullify the other.

      • December 18, 2017 2:08 pm

        Using models, she has conclusively demonstrated that the drought “COULD” be tied to rising sea surface temperatures. Or maybe yes, maybe no. In other words, she has “conclusively demonstrated” maybe. And she can sort it out with another 15-20 years of funding.

        And she has managed to do all this while ignoring the well known and proven cyclical nature of precipitation in the area. I don’t see any Nobel Prizes in her future.

  16. December 18, 2017 8:48 am

    Yes. and in Southeast Asia it is the PDO.

    Here are the changes in Cambodian rainfall during the peak month for a full century:

    (Source World Bank, believed also to be from the GRU)

    It seems to me that the data is being misinterpreted. Natural variations in climate are being interpreted as evidence for man-made change in climate.

    Partly this is due to the official definition of climate as the average over 30 years. In my opinion the average should have been at least 60 years because of the oceanic oscillations.

  17. Henning Nielsen permalink
    December 18, 2017 8:49 am

    “As for Macron, a fool and his money are easily parted!”
    Except it’s not his own money, alas!

    • Gerry, England permalink
      December 18, 2017 5:17 pm

      Marine Le Pen’s plan was always to give the elite another spell in charge to show their incompetence before she wins power. I would suggest that her faith in the elite failing is well-founded.

  18. Graeme No.3 permalink
    December 18, 2017 8:50 am

    Howdo those models explained the undoubted wetness of the Sahara (Tassili frescos) in the Holocene Optimum? Higher temperatures, more water in the Sahara. Or are those hippos merely extras imported to model for the frescos?
    Of course! Those hippos (and giraffes, and assorted bovines) must have traveled up there in SUVs.

  19. December 18, 2017 11:38 am

    Macron has thrown fistful of 💰 at these people knowing full well they will continue in the same vein. It’s cash for total tosh.

  20. December 18, 2017 12:18 pm

    It is hard to be a real female scientist in a sea of these mindless twits. And I am the one called a “science denier” for using actual data instead of models.

  21. Athelstan permalink
    December 18, 2017 3:59 pm

    It’s all an extrapolation of wishful thinking but then it is “stating the art of it” and wouldn’t you, if; your mortgage, kid’s school and new car depended on it?

  22. December 18, 2017 4:04 pm

    the only positive thing one can say about Macron in the context of ‘climate’ is his recent decision to continue France’s utilization of nuclear energy for the foreseeable future and at the same time giving Chancellor Merkel a burn by mocking her ‘energiewende’

  23. December 18, 2017 4:38 pm

    Key: 5 year contract. Anything done will be viewed as Macron-infomercial for 5 years. Not reflecting suppressed NASA/NOAA science.

    Score 50 for the planet (and Trump).

  24. Steve Borodin permalink
    December 18, 2017 7:36 pm

    I wonder if Macron could be persuaded to take a few people from the UEA or the Met Office. Perhaps a few pseuds from the BBC might be employable in French broadcasting?

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