Sea surface temperatures in the tropical South Atlantic Ocean can act as a dominant driver of rainfall variability and outbreaks of malaria in arid northwestern India. This climatic link, reported online this week in Nature Climate Change, could provide the basis for seasonal prediction of malaria incidence in the region.
The influence of relatively slow changes in sea surface temperature on regional climate variability at distant locations offers the promise of prediction for many environmental factors. Mercedes Pascual and colleagues identified - through observational analysis supported by coupled atmosphere-ocean modelling experiments - the influence of South Atlantic sea surface temperatures on both monsoon rainfall and malaria epidemics in northwest India. They believe that this relationship between two distant locations may become more prominent over the coming decades due to climate change.
These findings could be used to produce early warnings of anomalous rainfall patterns conducive to malaria epidemics four months in advance of their occurrence - a longer lead time than rainfall monitoring can provide - potentially offering more time for public health interventions.