We are interested in understanding how regional land use/land cover change as well as global climate change may impact society through changes in the patterns of water availability, extreme weather, and spread of vector-borne diseases. We develop sophisticated numerical models (MIT Regional Climate Model (MRCM); and the Hydrology, Entomology and Malaria Transmission Simulator (HYDREMATS)) that are used for predicting such impacts at regional scales. We test these models against satellite observations and archived data sets of hydrologic and atmospheric variables, as well as data collected in our own field campaigns.

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Schematic of HYDREMATS

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Schematic of MRCM



Research in Eltahir group developed a theory defining the role of vegetation distribution, as a lower boundary for the atmosphere, in shaping the dynamics of monsoons, exposing a coupled natural system that enjoys multiple equilibriums under the same forcing, and used that theory to predict and explain the impact of human activities such as deforestation, irrigation, and desertification on rainfall distribution in Africa.

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Response of the biosphere-atmosphere system to vegetation perturbations

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The annual rainfall in the Sahel

However, the ocean, and not vegetation, is the lower boundary of the atmosphere for most of the Earth. This important role of the ocean was apparent in our discovery of the connection between natural variability in the Nile flow and the oceanic phenomenon of El Nino. We used this connection to predict how climate change may impact the Nile floods in the future, as well as in development of a new methodology for seasonal prediction of the Nile flow. This methodology has been adopted for operational use in the region.

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The relation between the annual Nile flow and ENSO 1872-1972

Eltahir group established and maintained long-term field sites to study the ecology of malaria transmission in several African villages. Research in this group resulted in improving state-of-the art tools for planning environmental management of this disease under the current climate, and projected a less worrisome future for malaria in West Africa than suggested by previous studies.

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More recently, we identified the “hottest” spot on Earth: the area around the Persian Gulf, and predicted that habitability of this region will be severely impacted in the future due to deadly summer heat waves that can be triggered by global climate change. This work received exceptionally broad media attention (Altmetric index of 1390), suggesting a significant role in shaping the global public policy debate about global climate change.