Congo River wooden raft radeau logging deforestation timber Africa
Loggers float down the Congo River on a radeau, or raft, made from timber, likely supported by illegal deforestation. The huts protect the loggers from the Sun and other weather on their travels. Credit: Raphael Tshimanga

This 3-day AGU Chapman Conference brought together the Congo Basin research community to initiate and develop a road map for new scientific discoveries in hydrology, biogeochemistry, and climatology. It focused on six hypotheses based on changes in precipitation, relationships between rainfall and runoff, wetland water balances, carbon fluxes, forest and land cover changes, and water resources.

The six scientific hypotheses (each covered in one half-day session) were originally highlighted in the Reviews of Geophysics article “Opportunities for Hydrologic Research in the Congo Basin” (available in both English and French). Oral and poster presenters were asked to provide their results or insights regarding the hypotheses’ tests, taking a couple of questions into consideration: Were the test results true or false? Should the hypothesis be rewritten or deleted in favor of a different hypothesis but still focused on the scientific content?

In general, attendees agreed that the hypotheses were helpful for initiating and honing discussions. Hypotheses on precipitation and runoff need to specify locations and amplitudes of rainfall changes to more accurately compare them to streamflow or to more accurately know their atmospheric forcings because these relate to climate change. Hypotheses on the Cuvette Centrale water balance are being supported, but no decisions were reached regarding the swamp carbon outgassing. Because forest clearing is not as prevalent as changes in land use and land cover (LULC), hypotheses relating hydrology to deforestation should instead relate to LULC change. Waters in the Congo Basin are used for navigation, generating hydroelectric power, irrigation, and ecosystem services; therefore, individual hypotheses should be created for each of these varied uses and thus allow individual testing of their potential usage-related effects. In summary, some hypotheses were tested by the presented research and accepted as being true, whereas none were concluded as being false. In terms of research coordination, a system-wide approach of monitoring and modeling designed to capture key regional processes is needed and requires a community of researchers.

For perhaps the first time at an AGU meeting, discussion sessions were held in both French and English.

The conference was a starting point for creating new, international partnerships that will address each of the six hypotheses. To overcome the economic and language barriers that are inherent in sub-Saharan Africa, funding groups provided partial to full support for more than 70% of the 85 attendees, including 25 researchers from the Congo Basin and nearby countries. For perhaps the first time at an AGU meeting, discussion sessions were held in both French and English. Among attendees, this ensured the fullest participation, with a full exchange of ideas, when coupled with live French-English interpretation.

Although excellent research has been conducted in the Congo Basin for decades, the connection of this research to the AGU community has been minimal. Already, it is clear that key outcomes from the conference include dozens of new collaborations. Given the geographic, language, and economic diversity of the presenters and attendees, the sessions provided attendees an opportunity to meet researchers and create new partnerships that would not have been possible otherwise. During and since the conference, attendees have made plans for activities such as collecting new measurements, digitizing historic data, and developing and/or applying new models—all geared toward making new discoveries. In the months that have followed the Chapman Conference, session cohosts have been finalizing the attendee inputs via continued email dialogue.

Given that the research groups for each of the six hypotheses have sizable AGU member representation, we believe that future Congo research will grow substantially.

A series of journal articles is currently being written to expand on the new insights gained from the many discussions, newly developed collaborations, and ongoing research by the Congo Basin research community. Additionally, given that the research groups for each of the six hypotheses have sizable AGU member representation, we believe that future Congo research will grow substantially. As a Congo research community, we must now focus on the identified actions resulting from this conference, and these actions will lead to new scientific discoveries, guided by the hypotheses now being honed as a result. The global community of researchers is most welcome to be a part of this exciting future.

The recommended Congo Basin research community action items are as follows:

  • establish new, permanent field stations with 24/7 operations
  • initiate airborne, field, and river campaigns to collect new measurements
  • establish annual fellowships for researchers from sub-Saharan countries and create educational exchanges
  • publish peer-reviewed research in both English and French in the top-tier, globally recognized journals, for example, AGU journals

We appreciatively acknowledge the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Ohio State University, SO Hybam, Géosciences Environnement Toulouse, Congo River users Hydraulics and Morphology, and HydroSciences Montpellier for their support and participation.

—Edward Beighley (, Northeastern University, Boston, Mass.; Raphael Tshimanga, Congo Basin Water Resources Research Center, University of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo; and Guy Moukandi N’kaya, Mechanical, Energy and Engineering Laboratory, Marien Ngouabi University, Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo


Beighley, E.,Tshimanga, R., and N’kaya, G. M. (2019), Establishing science campaigns in sub-Saharan Africa, Eos, 100, Published on 04 March 2019.

Text © 2019. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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