The top map on the left represents the current e vegetation index conditions and the bottom left is the average for this time of year. The top right map is the difference between the top (current) and bottom (normal) on the left, and the bottom right map is the "significance" of that difference. Credit: Joel Michaelsen
SANTA BARBARA, Calif., May 1 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say they may be getting closer to being able to predict droughts in Africa months ahead using climate trends and vegetation data.
Geographers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, say such predictions would mean food aid and other humanitarian efforts could be put into effect sooner and executed better.
After more than a decade of gathering and analyzing climate and vegetation data from East Africa, the researchers say there is enough evidence to associate climate conditions in the region with projected rainfall deficits that could lead to food shortages, a university release reported Tuesday.
"We've been looking at climate in East Africa and trying to relate that back to patterns in sea surface temperatures, rainfall, and winds over the Indian and Pacific oceans," researcher Chris Funk said.
During the last 14 years, the number of droughts has doubled in East Africa, the geographers said.
Satellite data that has recorded the patterns of vegetation greening and browning over the last decade combined with climate data has shown patterns that suggest the possibility of water shortages months ahead.
"We've been worried about these trends for a long time," researcher Joel Michaelsen said. "This year marks a bit of a watershed because we're starting to understand more the specific structure of these droughts, which is what underlay our early warning projections this year."