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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 2 (2012 Deadline)

Contribution to drought identification and alert in Northern Tunisia

PI: Zoubeida Kebaili Bargaoui (Ecole Nationale d’Ingénieurs de Tunis)
U.S. Partner: Kelly Caylor (Princeton University)
Project Dates: August 2013 to February 2016

Tunisia is a primarily agricultural country with sub-humid, sub-arid, and arid climate zones. As a result, the country's economy is very sensitive to the impact of droughts, so research on drought alert systems to facilitate drought monitoring, mitigation, and adaptation programs could be very useful. The project aims to contribute to drought identification and alert in Tunisia using water budget modeling, which incorporates satellite information. It will leverage the experimental African Drought Monitor (ADM) system developed by Princeton University researchers in collaboration with UNESCO and installed in Niamey and Nairobi. North Africa is not currently well covered by ADM, so this PEER Science project intends to enhance drought monitoring in the region by using local observations that are currently unavailable to ADM. Actual prediction of the water balance terms is one point of departure in ADM. The Princeton researchers are using a variable infiltration capacity (VIC) land surface model as the computational basis for the water balance representation in ADM and for land surface temperature modeling. Climate and soil data including from remote sensing sources are used as model inputs to compute soil moisture content and resulting water stress indicators.

The Tunisian research team, on the other hand, has developed a water balance model in recent years using ground-based local precipitation, air temperature, and soil data for runoff and evapotranspiration prediction. In the first phase of the project, the Tunisian model will be compared with ADM/VIC results to reconstitute a historic period of observation using runoff data (1960- 2010). The next element of the project is to assess the quality of satellite estimates and reanalysis data (rainfall in particular) that feed the VIC model by comparing them with ground estimations (historic reconstitution). In addition, the ENIT team has developed an application using ground observations and water balance modeling to assess drought indices, some of which have already been implemented in ADM. However, the drought index based on soil moisture percentiles adopted by ADM is not included in the Tunisian applications so far. An assessment of the drought indices and evaluation of their quality and ability to identify well-known past drought periods will also be carried out as part of the PEER project. Data will be shared through a web-based interface that will be developed as part of the existing ADM web interface in order to display the results of the North Tunisia Drought Monitor. Users will be able to access maps of model outputs (mainly precipitation, evapotranspiration, surface runoff, and soil moisture) and to spatially averaged drought indicators. Overall, the project should help to facilitate drought mitigation and adaptation efforts.

Summary of Recent Activities
The fourth quarter of 2015 was dominated by the organization of a two workshops involving the National Meteorological Institute, National Forest Institute, non-governmental organizations and the private sector. The first event, "Drought, Climate Change and Hydrological impacts,” was held on November 24 in which the project team reported the results from their PEER project and another ongoing project involving France and Morocco, both of which focus on the analysis of the Regional Climate Model results for northern Tunisia. The research team presented outputs of several regional climate models for project watersheds (Joumine, Sejnane, and Siliana) as well as projected hydrological impacts regarding runoff and drought identification based on simulated soil water content from previous years in the Sejnane and Joumine basins. Thirty people participated in this workshop, including 12 students, seven government representatives and three universities. The team also included a tutorial on statistical tools at the end of the event. On November 27, the team organized another workshop entitled "Green Tunisia: The Role of Hydrological Monitoring in Achieving this Objective." The project team presented a drought risk assessment and water cycles in Tunisian forest zones. Four invited speakers representing UBCI Bank, the NGO Al Madanyia, and ISSBAT participated in the event and, as November is officially "Tree Month" in Tunisia, they were asked to present on societal engagement for enhancing vegetation cover.

During this time, multiple trips also took place. Team member and Phd student, Saoussen Dhib, conducted a two month exchange visit at Prague University and had the opportunity to take four courses. As she is a water and agriculture engineer by curricula, these courses will help her in analyzing the precipitation data, particularly those gleaned through remote sensing. Additionally, three PEER project presentations were given at the International Conference on African Large River Basins Hydrology held in October. The team also organized two visits in the field on November 18 and December 15 where they met with the regional agriculture authority representatives (CRDA Siliana) and presented their underflow groundwater modelling system. Lastly, two financial officers from ENIT (F. Labidi and I. Mansouri) attended the PEER Financial Training workshop in Istanbul.

As the project is scheduled to conclude in early 2016, the team will use the remaining time to conduct close-out activities. This will include: preparing a website to share the project results (maps, tutorials, and programs); finishing the SPI mapping for the Medjerda basin and North Coast basins; continue the modelling of the groundwater system of Siliana underflow; and installing a meteorological station.

Website of Princeton University’s African Drought Monitor

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