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The Snows of Kilimanjaro Are Melting

The Snows of Kilimanjaro Are Melting

Mount Kilimanjaro, 1-20-2017 (credit: Landsat-8)


Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest peak in Africa (19,340 feet) and one of the famous Seven Summits in mountaineering lore. The volcano's ice cap, made famous by Earnest Hemingway's 1936 short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro, has declined considerably since his story was first published.

A combination of factors, including climate change and deforestation of the mountain's flanking forests, has reduced the cap to several large snow fields today. Dense montane forests once covered Kili's slopes and were an important part of the mountain's hydrologic (water cycling) system. The trees provided moisture from the forest's constant transpiration into the atmosphere for clouds to form. The clouds often completely hid the peak's summit.

To reach the summit, trekkers pass through diverse vegetation types including dry savanna; evergreen rainforests; montane cloud forests; and up into the cold Afro-alpine zone of scrublands and bogs. The top of the mountain consists largely of bare rock and ice. These vegetation zones are clearly visible in natural-color images acquired by the Landsat cameras. The photograph shows the striking demarcation lines of deforestation on the mountain's flanks as forests have been replaced by farms right up to the boundary of Kilimanjaro National Park.


                                         Farms and vegetation zones around Mount Kilimanjaro National Park, 1-20-2017 (credit: NASA)

A 100 year time-lapse of images from 1912 through 2013 illustrates the ice cap changes.

The Earth monitoring environmental Landsat-8 satellite re-examined the ice status in 2019 which showed ever further declines. The remaining snow fields are predicted to disappear between 2030 and 2040 if the trends in atmospheric warming and deforestation continue. The, once, Snows of Kilimanjaro will have fully melted away by then. WHB

            Changes in ice cover on Mount Kilimanjaro, 1986-2019 (credit: NASA/USGS)


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