Acta Geophysica

, Volume 67, Issue 2, pp 621–649 | Cite as

The water resources of tropical West Africa: problems, progress, and prospects

  • Christopher E. NdehedeheEmail author
Review Article - Hydrology


West Africa plays key roles in global climate and shows one of the strongest variations in hydro-climatic conditions. As it turns out, the region appears to be underrepresented in the existing compendium of Earth science and hydrology-focused journal papers when it comes to significant discussion on terrestrial hydrology and freshwater science. This prominent gap is largely precipitated by increasing number of constraints that include lack of considerable and robust investments in gauge measurements for meteorological and hydrological applications, poor funding of research institutions and other disincentives, among other factors. In this manuscript, the challenges and problems in large-scale terrestrial hydrology-focused investigation in West Africa are reviewed. Using a dossier of some recent contributions in the field of remote sensing hydrology, this review also highlights some of the progress in terrestrial hydrology and the opportunities that exist for hydro-geodetic research in West Africa that leverage on sustained investments in satellite geodetic missions. It is noted that West Africa is still a pristine environment for hydrology-focused research and can benefit from recent advancements in sophisticated space agency programs such as the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, which undoubtedly has revolutionized terrestrial hydrology research around the world for nearly two decades. Given the poor density of gauge stations and limited ground observations, hydrological research in West Africa is expected to benefit more from independent space observations and multi-resolution data. This is because the lack of sufficient in-situ data for the parameterizations and adequate initialization of outputs from hydrological models and reanalysis data for hydrological applications results in poor representation of the West African land surface and hydrological state variables. To further improve our contemporary understanding of West Africa’s terrestrial hydrology, the continued evaluation/validation of these observations and space-borne measurements is advocated.


Terrestrial hydrology Droughts Rainfall River discharge Climate variability 



The various agencies of government (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Center for Space Research, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration) are gratefully acknowledged for the data used to support this review paper. This synthesis contains items taken from the literature review component of the author’s unpublished PhD thesis, which was completed at Curtin University, Australia, in 2017. The comments of R W Abrams and two other anonymous reviewers, which helped improved the quality of the manuscript are gratefully acknowledged.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that there is no conflict of interest.


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© Institute of Geophysics, Polish Academy of Sciences & Polish Academy of Sciences 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Australian Rivers Institute and School of Environment and ScienceGriffith UniversityNathanAustralia

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