Developing an African-based earth system model

Project Status: 

The CSIR is developing the first African-based earth system model to provide reliable projections of the potential impact of climate change on the African continent. This will help answer questions such as what might happen to the local climate if greenhouse gas concentrations continue to increase, as well as whether or not climate change will result in the more frequent occurrence of strong El Niño events and drought in southern Africa.

The CSIR has begun the development of the first African-based earth system model. This will be a coupled model – it incorporates the physics and chemistry of the atmosphere and the oceans to enable accurate and more realistic climate projections for Africa. The multidisciplinary effort is driven by CSIR experts in the fields of global change, high-performance computing as well as modelling and digital science.

Only one out of the 30 earth system models in use had been developed in the southern hemisphere and therefore very few models can provide an adequate understanding on climate variability in Africa and the Southern Ocean, which is extremely important for global climate regulation.

In 2015, the CSIR officially became a Coupled Model Intercomparison Project six-registered (CMIP6) group of the World Climate Research Programme. CMIP6 is an experimental design for a framework for global climate change modelling until 2020. The CSIR is the first CMIP-registered group in Africa, meaning that the sixth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will, for the first time, contain African-derived projections of future global climate change. The reports assess the evidence of climate change that has occurred to date, combines climate change projections obtained from all leading climate change institutions globally and converts the information collected into a set of plausible climate futures.

The CSIR’s investment in the development of this model is aimed at informing the country’s adaptation strategies for climate change. Projections generated by the CSIR have directly informed the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions that South Africa has submitted to the 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Federation Convention on Climate Change. The models have also informed the national communication on climate change of South Africa.



Japanese Agency for Marine Earth-Science and Technology Australian Commonwealth, Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation Indian Institute of Tech Madras Brazilian National Institute for Space Research United Kingdom Meteorological office



Contact Person

Prof Francois Engelbrecht


CSIR scientists are using state-of-the-art equipment to measure carbon dioxide (CO2) exchange and related factors on land and sea. This information helps researchers to more accurately predict the rate of CO2 build-up that could lead to high risk and costly climate change and to test the effectiveness of mitigation strategies.

Key Concept

The Southern Ocean
Considered the lungs of the planet, the Southern Ocean – a key area of focus in the model development process – is a fundamental part of regulating global climate. The importance of the Southern Ocean in regulating global climate is underscored by three big numbers: • 80% of the total heat uptake of the global ocean is through the Southern Ocean; • 50% of carbon dioxide uptake of the global ocean is through the Southern Ocean; and • 75% of ocean productivity outside of the Southern Ocean depends on nutrients delivered by the Southern Ocean.