UMFULA: Uncertainty Reduction in Models for Understanding Development Applications

Project Timeline
1 Jun 15 - 31 Mar 21
Project Contact
Prof Declan Conway
Principal Investigator

UMFULA (“river” in Zulu) is a research project that aims to improve climate information for decision-making in central and southern Africa, with a particular focus on Tanzania and Malawi. The team is generating for the region new insights and more reliable information about climate processes and extreme weather events and their impacts on water, energy and agriculture, with the aim to support long-term – 5 to 40 years – planning decisions around resource use, infrastructure investment and cross-sectoral growth priorities. UMFULA is a global consortium of 14 institutions specialising in cutting-edge climate science, impact modelling and socio-economic research.

UMFULA researchers and decision-makers in the Rufiji River Basin in Tanzania and in the Shire River Basin in Malawi partner in a collaborative dialogue to identify critical vulnerabilities and thresholds where climate change may pose unacceptable risks to planned development activities. By having a clearer description of how the climate will change over the next 5-40 years and a better understanding of the political economy affecting decisions in the region, the team is working to produce scenarios for the climate in the decades ahead, including the effects of ‘high impact’ events, like intense rainfall and droughts, on natural resources and socio-economic activities. This work highlights the trade-offs that decision-makers face in the context of an uncertain future climate and rapid economic change and it informs national and local planning and policy processes.

The team supports a range of actors involved in development decisions to evaluate future climate scenarios and identify various adaptation options which are robust and resilient in the face of climate change and other non-climate stressors: this includes actors at the national, district and basin levels and in the private sector. In the private sector, the team is specifically working with the tea and sugar industries. The work with the tea industry also covers western Kenya and is in partnership with HyCRISTAL.

Whilst we have confidence in the ability of Global Climate Models (GCM) to project future temperatures, rainfall is much more uncertain.  The rain that falls in any one place at any time reflects the nature of atmospheric and oceanic circulation.  Although circulation patterns are evident at a global scale, they are mediated by local factors, which include topography and the formation of local weather systems.  Central and southern Africa is subject to tropical weather systems (that form around the equator) and also sub-tropical and temperate systems to the south of the continent.

With a cold ocean (Atlantic) on the western side and a warm ocean (Indian) to the east, the region is also subject to particular ocean-atmosphere interactions. UMFULA is investigating a variety of factors that affect central and southern Africa’s climate through circulation patterns and ocean-atmosphere interaction.  These include the Angola Low, temperate tropical cloud bands, tropical ex-tropical cloud bands and subtropical highs. A better understanding of the mechanisms that are responsible for climate variability allows us to evaluate how well GCMs replicate climate conditions, thus increasing our confidence in projections of future climate.

In the context of the recent damaging extreme events in the region, UMFULA is also investigating the future characteristics of extreme rainfall events over Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania which result from extreme deep convection and tropical lows/tropical cyclones.


Climate communication: understanding the end-users’ environment is crucial to information up-take

Communicating climate information effectively with target audiences such as government technical staff starts with well-conceived and carefully packaged communication materials. But it doesn’t end there. According to recent...

The Congo Air Boundary holds the key to understanding climate change in southern Africa

Southern Africa is one of the few land-based regions in the world for which climate models are in agreement that rainfall will decline as the planet warms. This...

Newsletter June 2020

Welcome to the June 2020 edition of the Future Climate for Africa newsletter showcasing the recent highlights and work of FCFA. 

New tools to support broader stakeholder involvement in sub-Saharan Africa river basin management

Several dams and hydro-power schemes are being considered for development in Tanzania’s Rufiji River Basin. A new online tool will allow decision makers to consider competing water interests...