Global environmental challenges
The golden, melting, re-freezing and ultimately disappearing snows of Kilimanjaro
When he wrote “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” in the 1930s, Ernest Hemingway described the summit of that African mountain as “wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun.”
It’s still wide, but may not be white much longer, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that says the remaining ice fields atop Kilimanjaro in Tanzania could be gone in 20 years or less, a casualty of climate change. Changes in clouds and precipitation play a minor role but the scientists say it’s mostly due to global warming.
Here’s the trail of data released by the National Science Foundation, which helped fund the research:
– 85 percent of the ice that covered the mountain in 1912 had been lost by 2007, and 26 percent of the ice there in 2000 is now gone.
– A radioactive signal marking the 1951-52 “Ivy” atomic tests that was detected in 2000 some 1.6 meters (5.25 feet) below the surface of the Kilimanjaro ice is now lost, with an estimated 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) missing from the tops of the current ice fields.
– Elongated bubbles trapped in the frozen ice at the top of one ice core show surface ice melted and refroze, apparently the only time there’s been sustained melting in this core in the last 11,700 years.
– Even a 300-year-old drought some 4,200 years ago didn’t melt the ice, though it did leave an inch-thick layer of dust.
These observations confirm that the current climate conditions at Mount Kilimanjaro are unique over the last 11 millennia. The same changes are happening on Mount Kenya and the Rwenzori Mountains in Africa, in the South American Andes and in the Himalayas.
Read more about it here.
Photo credit: Lonnie Thompson, Ohio State University (Ice fields atop Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro glow golden in the last of the afternoon sun.)