Kilimanjaro Glaciers : The glaciers of Kilimanjaro initially appear to be nothing more than large, slick, and rather repetitive ice mounds. On second glance, they resemble this as well. But the glaciers on Kilimanjaro are far more complex than they appear. These sparkling towers of blue-white ice are living archives of climatic history. Additionally, they might be giving us a sign of an approaching natural catastrophe.
Glaciers are large icebergs that can be found on top of mountains or at the earth’s poles. Tropical glaciers are ice formations that can be found on mountains near the equator at high altitudes. Only three locations in Africa are home to tropical glaciers: Mount Rwenzori in Uganda, Mount Kenya in Kenya, and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, which has the biggest and most of them.
Sadly, climate change is causing glaciers to disappear throughout the planet. The glaciers of Kilimanjaro are rapidly melting as a result of changes in weather, such as increased humidity and warmer air. There is not much longer to see Furtwangler Glacier, Kilimanjaro’s biggest glacier.
WHY HAVEN’T KILIMANJARO’S GLACIERS MELTED AWAY?
One could have anticipated that there would be very little ice on Kilimanjaro after 11,700 years of melting. Why is it 11,700 years old? (Well, existing glaciers started to form in 9700 BC, according to recent studies.) Because of the protracted “cold snaps,” or ice ages, that have happened over the centuries, there are still glaciers today. Naturally, these enable the glaciers to reassemble and surface on the mountain.
At sunrise, the southern icefield of Mount Kilimanjaro can be viewed from Uhuru Peak, with a gorgeous pinkish-orange sky and Mount Meru piercing the clouds in the distance.
There have reportedly been at least eight of these ice ages. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the final one was relatively unimportant. The Thames frequently froze over during that time, and the winters were harsh. At this time of year, Kilimanjaro’s ice would have occasionally reached the tree line. At this point, Mawenzi and Kibo would have been protected.
At the other extreme, there have been times before 9700 BC when Kilimanjaro was entirely devoid of ice, possibly for as long as 20,000 years.
DISAPPEARANCE OF GLACIERS FROM KILIMANJARO
The glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro might vanish as soon as 2030, according to National Geographic. Furtwangler Glacier extinction is predicted by some more pessimistic scientists to occur in 2060; nonetheless, both projections are still well within the lifetimes of many readers.
Tragically, the Furtwangler Glacier and other tropical glaciers on Kilimanjaro are already being destroyed and cannot be stopped or reversed in any manner. One should not undervalue the effects of global warming in key areas like the highest mountain in Africa and vital regions like Tanzania.
HOW IS GLOBAL WARMING AFFECTING THEM?
There will undoubtedly be effects on the glaciers on Kilimanjaro as our planet warms. However, no one can predict the future of the glaciers with any certainty. But occasionally, another expert prediction comes through with either good or horrifying news.
It is obvious that the glaciers are rapidly vanishing based on the charting of the ice fields and observations made from the summit of Kilimanjaro in the early 1900s in comparison to the most recent data.
Naturally, the ice may have retreated a little over the centuries, but the rate of ice loss has quantifiably accelerated in the last few decades. According to studies from the National Academy of Sciences, the ice cover atop Kilimanjaro shrank at a rate of about 1% from the years 1912 to 1953. The rate of decline, however, shockingly doubled to 2.5% from 1989 to 2007. A worrisome rise that must be linked to climate change’s effects, which have been increasingly prominent in recent years.
The mass of ice on Mount Kilimanjaro’s summit decreased by more than 85% between 1912 and 2011, according to NASA, which can be found on their official Earth Observatory page, where experts can view satellite imaging for various locations around the world, including the summit. It is now a matter of when the ice will disappear rather than if it will.
The question of when the ice will melt is now irrelevant. – Earth Observatory of NASA All of the ice bodies on Kilimanjaro have substantially receded between 1912 and 2003, according to the findings of another airborne investigation conducted on the mountain. We can infer from the fact that this data is over ten years old that Kilimanjaro’s tropical glaciers and ice fields have shrunk by more than 90%.
Furtwangler Glacier and other tropical glaciers are unusual. The prevalence of snow and ice on mountaintop glaciers is explained by their great elevation, yet tropical glaciers are sensitive to the elements due to the equator’s intense sun and the region’s generally stable weather.
But for nearly 10,000 years, the glaciers atop Mount Kilimanjaro have been shielded by icefields and snow. We have just recently noticed a dramatic decline of the icefields and the complete extinction of several glaciers.
While we often refer to glaciers as “melting,” the real process of ice loss on Kilimanjaro is more likely sublimation: a process in which ice evaporates to a vapor rather than slowly melting into water. As a result, the ice on Kilimanjaro melts and turns into a cloud, which later sends sweat to another location. As a result, it is essentially impossible for water to freeze back into snow or ice, conserving Kilimanjaro’s glaciers or reducing their retreat. It seems obvious that climate change is to blame for the melting glaciers on Kilimanjaro given the recent acceleration in ice loss rates.
Sadly, there is currently no method to stop the melting of the glaciers and icefields on Kilimanjaro. We hope that this won’t have a materially negative impact on Tanzanian tourism, as many local tour guides rely on regular tourism for a portion of their income.
Focus East Africa Tours, however, hopes that this fact will encourage more travel agencies and other significant businesses to take the required action to protect Tanzania’s natural beauty. While certain steps have been taken to ensure that conservation zones keep animals safe and aid in the protection of Tanzania’s rhinoceros and elephant populations that are at risk of extinction, we must encourage more to be done to save this priceless habitat.
Travelers who want to see endangered animals, experience the beauty of Africa, and physically visit some of the most amazing locations in the world (like the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites) should make sure they book with socially responsible tour operators who have taken measures to lessen any negative impact on Tanzania’s environment. Operators leading Kilimanjaro climbs are among those who must comply with this; Africa’s highest peak is already losing significant glaciers and ice cover, and we do not want it to lose any more in the future.
At Focus East Africa Tours, we make sure that our mountain guides are as passionate about conserving Tanzania’s environment as they are well trained, making sure they are aware of precautions, and protecting the environment. Whether Tanzania is their adopted country or their new passion, our guides adore it. They go to great lengths to make sure that Focus East Africa Tour’s mountain treks are environmentally friendly, putting extra thought into how we camp, taking care to “leave no trace,” and conducting our business in a sustainable, responsible manner.
ICE AND CLIMBERS
Although ice climbing is a fantastic activity, we do not encourage it on any of Mount Kilimanjaro’s glaciers out of respect for Africa’s dwindling tropical glaciers.
Professional ice climber Will Gadd recently traveled back to Tanzania in order to scale the mountain’s renowned Furtwangler Glacier. The greatest glacier on Kilimanjaro was successfully ice climbed by Gadd back in 2014, but by the time he returned in 2020, the glacier had shrunk significantly and its ice walls had grown dangerously thin. Gadd gave up his climb and instead used his love of the sport to join the United Nations as a climate change advocate.
We advise guests to hike Mount Kilimanjaro so they can witness the melting glaciers up close before they disappear entirely rather than ice climbing Kilimanjaro’s glaciers. You can stand next to or walk on some of Kilimanjaro’s remaining glaciers while on your journey. If you are careful and don’t purposefully chip or chop away any of the ice, your activity shouldn’t accelerate the glacier’s melting.
It is a sad but true fact that the glaciers on Kilimanjaro are disappearing. Climate change has not caused these ice structures, which have been there for an estimated 11,700 years, to disappear. Although we cannot halt the process of these tropical glaciers melting, we may take a lesson from it about the need to protect our world and make responsible, sustainable decisions.
The tallest peak in Africa, the biggest national parks, and Tanzania’s unparalleled natural beauty are what we want visitors to experience. We urge anyone who is able to climb Kilimanjaro to do it before the glaciers and ice fields are gone and to tell others about our experience. May people learn the value of protecting the environment, and the greatest way to do so is to speak from personal experience after falling in love with Tanzania.