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MONSOON - Feedbacks between land cover, people, and climate
in the seasonally arid tropics  

Duration:   from 10/18 to 09/22

Funding institution: DAAD/BMBF program Make our Research Great Again 2018-2022   

Principal Investigator(s): Prof. Dr. Jed O. Kaplan

Associate Researchers: Jake Simpson, Fenner Holman, Silvia Schrötter, Anna Stegmann


Research topics: vegetation modelling, climate and       land surface interactions, wet and dry tropics


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Possibly more than anywhere else on the planet, the seasonally arid tropics of Africa and South Asia are critical for understanding the feedbacks between climate and society in the future. Home to nearly a quarter of the world's population and experiencing faster demographic growth than anywhere else on the planet, these regions are currently undergoing rapid landscape changes caused by deforestation, agriculture, and urbanization. At the same time, fossil fuel consumption and other industrial activities that affect climate globally are leading to increases in the frequency of extreme climate events in these regions, including drought and heat waves. In Africa and South Asia, local weather and climate is strongly influenced by land cover. This means that human activities such as deforestation, irrigation, and urbanization could exacerbate the effects of global climate change. Africa and South Asia are thus at a nexus for global change, where climate combined with land use and land cover may determine the future habitability of landscapes and the success or failure of societies to adapt to climate change. Parts of these regions are already affected by water and therefore food insecurity; reductions in rainfall caused by global climate trends and exacerbated by regional land use and land cover change in the future could lead to conflict, migrations, and social instability. At the same time, increases in the frequency of climate extremes such as heatwaves, wildfire, and dust storms, also potentially exacerbated by land use, could cause large regions to become at least seasonally uninhabitable, and provoke the spread of diseases that affect humans and their animals. For these reasons, it is essential that we have a good understanding of both climate and land cover change in the seasonally arid tropics.

The MONSOON project asks the question: How do climate change and human activities combine to influence the risks of environmental and social disruption? Addressing this question is critical if we want to develop strategies to ensure the resilience of people and nature in the face of ongoing climate change. Yet our knowledge of the way landscape influences weather, and how human activities affect local and regional climate, is severely limited. The project will focus on the seasonally arid tropics, where the relationship between land surface conditions and regional climate is known to be very important, but where computer simulations perform poorly and characterizations of land use are overly simplistic, and where large populations with high demographic growth place societies at risk of future environmental and demographic tipping points.

The MONSOON research team will use a combination of novel field studies and state of the art computer simulations to investigate land-climate interactions in South Asia and West Africa. The project study regions cover gradients in both the properties of the physical environment, such as rainfall and soil type, and sociocultural characteristics, such as population density and economic systems, that will allow us to identify places and land use strategies that put people and ecosystems at risk.


  • Simpson, J.E., Holman, F., Nieto, H., Voelksch, I., Mauder, M., Klatt, J., Fiener, P., Kaplan, J.O., 2021. High spatial and temporal resolution energy flux mapping of different land covers using an off-the-shelf unmanned aerial system. Remote Sensing, 13(7). 1286.

Contact Persons

Water and Soil Resource Research
Water and Soil Resource Research
Professor at University Hongkong
Water and Soil Resource Research