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Title: El Niño–Southern Oscillation and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

The relationship between El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the transatlantic slave trade (TAST) is examined using the Slave Voyages dataset and several reconstructed ENSO indices. The ENSO indices are used as a proxy for West African rainfall and temperature. In the Sahel, the El Niño (warm) phase of ENSO is associated with less rainfall and warmer temperatures, whereas the La Niña (cold) phase of ENSO is associated with more rainfall and cooler temperatures. The association between ENSO and the TAST is weak but statistically significant at a 2-yr lag. In this case, El Niño (drier and warmer) years are associated with a decrease in the export of enslaved Africans. The response of the TAST to El Niño is explained in terms of the societal response to agricultural stresses brought on by less rainfall and warmer temperatures. ENSO-induced changes to the TAST are briefly discussed in light of climate-induced movements of peoples in centuries past and the drought-induced movement of peoples in the Middle East today.

Significance Statement

The transatlantic slave trade was driven by economic and political forces, subject to the vagaries of the weather; it spanned two hemispheres and four continents and lasted more than 400 years. In this more » study we show that El Niño–Southern Oscillation, and its proxy association with West African rainfall and temperature, are significantly associated with the number of enslaved Africans that were transported from West Africa to the Americas. Lessons learned from the effects of weather and climate on the transatlantic slave trade reverberate today: extreme weather and climate change will continue to catalyze and amplify human conflict and migrations.

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Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Weather, Climate, and Society
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
p. 257-271
American Meteorological Society
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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