In 13 to 24 years Ernest Hemingway’s short story, The Snows of Kilimanjaro may serve as a reminder of what the world has lost due to climate change. The snow-capped volcano in Tanzania might be ice-free within the next two decades, according to a study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal.
U.S.-based researchers Lonnie Thompson and colleagues climbed the 19,331 foot (5,892 meter) peak, drilled deep into glaciers and measured ice fields. Previous studies used aerial photographs to measure the ice’s retreat. The researchers spent seven years measuring Kilimanjaro’s glaciers, and lived on top of it for almost two months.
Called the “roof of Africa,” Kilimanjaro is the continent’s highest peak. Within a seven year period, 2000 to 2007, it lost 26 percent of its ice. The ice sheet in 2007 was 85 percent less than in 1912. The ice decreased one percent a year from 1912 to 1953, but from 1989 to 2007 it decreased 2.5 percent a year. The smaller Furtwangler Glacier decreased by as much as 50 percent between 2000 and 2009. The study blamed the loss of ice on warmer temperatures and dryer weather caused by climate change.
“There is a strong likelihood that the ice fields will disappear within a decade or two if current conditions persist,” said the study. “The climatological conditions currently driving the loss of Kilimanjaro’s ice fields are clearly unique within an 11,700-year perspective.
“The Kilimanjaro glaciers are indicators for a larger-scale process,” Thompson said. “It’s not just Kilimanjaro, it’s every tropical glacier in Africa, in the tropical Andes of South America, it’s the glaciers in New Guinea. We are losing all those glaciers in today’s world.”
“The shrinkage and ultimate disappearance of these glaciers will create tremendous ecological and social problems in the near future,” said Doug Hardy, senior research fellow in the Climate Systems Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and contributor to the study.
The loss of Kilimanjaro’s ice would cost the east African country economically for it attracts 35,000 to 40,000 visitors a year who spend almost $50 million a year in Tanzania. The overall tourism industry in Tanzania was $1.22 billion last year.
“The loss of the ice fields will have a negative impact on tourism in tropical east Africa,” said Thompson.
Time to take action
It may be too late to save the snows of Kilimanjaro, but it is not too late to take action to mitigate climate change. Instead of sinking into proverbial despair, let the government know it is time to pass a climate change bill. Sign the petition “Step Up On Climate, President Obama.” Then, tell your friends and family to sign it. Let’s aim for 10,000 signatures before the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in early December.