Ice fields on Kilimanjaro are rapidly shrinking

The dramatic loss of Kilimanjaro’s ice cover has attracted global attention recently. In a study published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the authors note that over the recent decades there has been a continual transformation of the landscape surrounding Kilimanjaro into agricultural land.

The lead author of the study, Lonnie G. Thompson, a glaciologist at Ohio State University, has concluded that the melting of recent years is unique.

Furtwangler Glacier Crredit:

Aerial photographs of the glaciers on Kibo were taken with mapping cameras on February 16, 2000  January 28, 2006, and October 15, 2007.  Simple visual comparison of the 2000 and 2007 aerial photographs reveals dramatic changes. If current climatological conditions are sustained, the ice fields atop Kilimanjaro and on its flanks will likely disappear within several decades.

A 25-year temperature and precipitation history recorded in the Amboseli Basin, a few kilometres’ from the northern base of Mount Kilimanjaro, reveals a warming trend in both maximum and minimum temperatures and large interannual variability in precipitation but no long-term trend.

From 2000 to 2007 thinning at the summits of the Northern and Southern Ice Fields was 1.9 and 5.1 m, respectively. The Northern Ice Field has persisted at least 11,700 years and survived a widespread drought 4,200 years ago that lasted 300 years.

Of the ice cover present in 1912, 85% has disappeared and 26% of that present in 2000 is now gone. Summit ice cover decreased 1% per year from 1912 to 1953 and 2.5% per year from 1989 to 2007. Furtwangler Glacier thinned 50% at the drill site between 2000 and 2009. The three remaining ice fields on the plateau and the slopes are both shrinking laterally and rapidly thinning.

Nevertheless, the authors have reached no consensus on whether the melting could be attributed mainly to humanity’s role in warming the global climate.

Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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