Kilimanjaro's Rapid Glacier Melting Quickened by Deforestation


photo: Tambako the Jaguar via flickr

Some new insight into the vanishing snow cover on Mount Kilimanjaro: A new paper in the journal Global and Planetary Change shows how deforestation is contributing to the rapid retreat of glaciers on the iconic mountain's summit. Deforestation Changes Moisture Flow Patterns
From the paper's abstract:

On the lower forested slopes the mountain surface is consistently cooler and moister than the atmospheric boundary layer. In contrast, temperatures and moisture on the higher slopes above treeline (~ 3000 m) are decoupled from the free atmosphere, showing substantial heating/cooling by day/night and import of moisture up from lower elevations during daylight hours. The mountain is universally warmer than the background atmosphere at 1500 EAT, the sparsely vegetated upper slopes acting as the focus for the most intense heating.

Report lead author Nicholas Pepin, from the University of Portsmouth, suggested to New Scientist, "extensive local deforestation in recent decades has likely reduced this flow of moisture [up the mountainside], depleting the mountain's icy hood."

In conclusion the report itself notes, "long-term ice retreat at the summit of Kilimanjaro therefore is most likely to be influenced by changes in local land-use as well as more regional free-air changes."


Kilimanjaro's summit in February 1993 (left) and 2000 (right). Images: NASA/US Geological Survey via New Scientist
Quarter of Mountain's Glacier's Present in 2000 Now Gone
Since 1912-2007 Mount Kilimanjaro's glaciers have lost 85% of their volume, with about one quarter of glacier present in 2000 now gone. The current rate of glacial loss on the mountain is unique in the past 11,700 years.

Previous study concurs with this report inasmuch as there are multiple factors at play in the ice retreat beyond simply increasing average temperatures. Whatever the exact combination of causes, research published about a year ago in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says Kilimanjaro's ice fields are expected to disappear entirely within several decades.

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More on Mount Kilimanjaro:
No Snows on Kilimanjaro by 2030 as Glaciers Continue Their Rapid Retreat
Climbing Kilimanjaro to Awaken the World to Water
7 Yr. Old With Heart of Gold to Be Youngest Ever to Summit Mt. Kilimanajaro

Tags: Africa | Deforestation | Global Climate Change

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