Kilimanjaro Ice Cap Almost Gone

Glaciers are in retreat from the Andes to the Himalayas. More than being a loss to our sense of wonder and beauty their diminishment and disappearance spell human and ecological disaster as the water-sources they are for hundreds of millions cease to be. In all of this, the shrinking of the snows of Kilimanjaro stands a particularly iconic. Perhaps it’s because snow fields high over Africa, the continent of desert and jungle, strikes as as so incongruous; perhaps because there, so removed from vast ranges of ice and snow, the importance of the snow and rivers from it are more easily seen. Perhaps it’s merely the nostalgia of reading the Hemingway story as a youngster just beginning to marvel at the world beyond our high-school playing fields. At any rate, the news is not good. In 2002, the predictions were the mountain might be bare by 2020. Here is this year’s report.

Glaciers are in retreat from the Andes to the Himalayas. More than being a loss to our sense of wonder and beauty their diminishment and disappearance spell human and ecological disaster as the water-sources they are for hundreds of millions cease to be. In all of this, the shrinking of the snows of Kilimanjaro stands a particularly iconic. Perhaps it’s because snow fields high over Africa, the continent of desert and jungle, strikes as as so incongruous; perhaps because there, so removed from vast ranges of ice and snow, the importance of the snow and rivers from it are more easily seen. Perhaps it’s merely the nostalgia of reading the Hemingway story as a youngster just beginning to marvel at the world beyond our high-school playing fields. At any rate, the news is not good. In 2002, the predictions were the mountain might be bare by 2020. Here is this year’s report.

Kilimanjaro2009

“Of the ice cover present in 1912, 85% has disappeared and 26% of that present in 2000 is now gone.”

The ice atop Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania has continued to retreat rapidly, declining 26 percent since 2000, scientists say in a new report.

NY Times

The article does a fair job at suggesting the impact on the people of Tanzania, though much more needs to be said. The headline in the Times however, elevates a science based caution to a popular misconception: The Cause is Debated. The debate, if you read the report, is about the relative importance of various drivers — moisture content, temperature rise, decreased cloud cover– not about whether climate change is happening. In fact something enormous is happening:

“Ice cores collected in 2000 provide several lines of evidence suggesting that drier and less cloudy conditions are unlikely to be sufficient to account for the observed ice loss. For example, Kilimanjaro’s NIF [Northern Ice Field] has persisted for at least 11,700 years, and 4,200 years ago a widespread drought lasting 300 years was insufficient to remove the NIF, where the drought is recorded by a 30-mm-thick dust layer.

Finally, the upper 65 cm of the NIF core 3 contains clear evidence of surface melting that does not appear elsewhere in the 49-m core containing the 11,700 year history. Hence, the climatological conditions currently driving the loss of Kilimanjaro’s ice fields are clearly unique within an 11,700-year perspective. These observations suggest that warmer near-surface conditions observed in the region, coupled with observed vertical amplification of temperature in lower latitudes (23–25), are playing an important role.”

Visually, it looks like this:
melting_snow_on_kilimanjaro

“Of the ice cover present in 1912, 85% has disappeared and 26% of that present in 2000 is now gone.”

The ice atop Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania has continued to retreat rapidly, declining 26 percent since 2000, scientists say in a new report.

NY Times

The article does a fair job at suggesting the impact on the people of Tanzania, though much more needs to be said. The headline in the Times however, elevates a science based caution to a popular misconception: The Cause is Debated. The debate, if you read the report, is about the relative importance of various drivers — moisture content, temperature rise, decreased cloud cover– not about whether climate change is happening. In fact something enormous is happening:

“Ice cores collected in 2000 provide several lines of evidence suggesting that drier and less cloudy conditions are unlikely to be sufficient to account for the observed ice loss. For example, Kilimanjaro’s NIF [Northern Ice Field] has persisted for at least 11,700 years, and 4,200 years ago a widespread drought lasting 300 years was insufficient to remove the NIF, where the drought is recorded by a 30-mm-thick dust layer.
Finally, the upper 65 cm of the NIF core 3 contains clear evidence of surface melting that does not appear elsewhere in the 49-m core containing the 11,700 year history. Hence, the climatological conditions
currently driving the loss of Kilimanjaro’s ice fields are clearly unique within an 11,700-year perspective. These observations suggest that warmer near-surface conditions observed in the region, coupled with observed vertical amplification of temperature in lower latitudes (23–25), are playing an important role.”

Visually, it looks like this:
melting_snow_on_kilimanjaro

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.