Model-based study of the role of rainfall and land use–land cover in the changes in the occurrence and intensity of Niger red floods in Niamey between 1953 and 2012
Abstract. Since 1950, the Niger River basin has gone through three main climatic periods: a wet period (1950–1960), an extended drought (1970–1980) and since 1990 a recent partial recovery of annual rainfall. Hydrological changes co-occur with these rainfall fluctuations. In most of the basin, the rainfall deficit caused an enhanced discharge deficit, but in the Sahelian region the runoff increased despite the rainfall deficit. Since 2000 the Sahelian part of the Niger has been hit by an increase of flood hazards during the so-called red flood period. In Niamey city, the highest river levels and the longest flooded period ever recorded occurred in 2003, 2010, 2012 and 2013, with heavy casualties and property damage. The reasons for these changes, and the relative role of climate versus land use–land cover (LULC) changes are still debated and are investigated in this paper. The evolution of the Niger red flood in Niamey from 1950 to 2012 is analysed based on long-term records of rainfall (three data sets based on in situ and/or satellite data) and discharge, and a hydrological model. The model is first run with the present LULC conditions in order to analyse solely the effect of rainfall variability. The impact of LULC and drainage area modification is investigated in a second step. The simulations based on the current surface conditions are able to reproduce the observed trend in the red flood occurrence and intensity since the 1980s. This has been verified with three independent rainfall data sets and implies that rainfall variability is the main driver for the red flood intensification observed over the last 30 years. The simulation results since 1953 have revealed that LULC and drainage area changes need to be invoked to explain the changes over a 60-year period.