Disappearing Destinations: 37 Places in Peril and What Can Be Done to Help Save Them

Mount Kilimanjaro
GLACIAL DEFICIT: The bright white tip of Kilimanjaro is fading as its glaciers melt (Corbis)

The Tanzanian peak with the gleaming white cap is both geographical oxymoron—glaciers so near the equator!—and literary icon. Ernest Hemingway made its flakes famous in The Snows of Kilimanjaro, in which he exalted, "There, ahead, all he could see, as wide as the world, great, high, and unbelievable white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro." Today, Kili still appears like a mountain mirage, rising starkly from the rolling, dusty plains. At its summit—where only rock, ice and snow brush the clouds at 19,340 feet—light, white and blue put on a dazzling show, at least for now.

Based on the best estimates, for 12,000 years there's been ice on Kili— but a few decades of climate change will likely put an end to that. The world's top glaciologists and climatologists, who have drilled and prodded the mountain's icy interiors have found that less that 20 percent of the peak's glaciers remain. Some historical indicators suggest that the ice began receding in the 1850s and hasn't let up since.

In his expedition on the mountain in 2006, Lonnie Thompson and his team from the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University confirmed their earlier prediction that the future of ice on Kili is not long. "Sure enough, not only are the glaciers continuing to retreat," says Thompson, "they are accelerating in the rate they're disappearing." Since 2000 alone, seven to 12 feet of ice have been lost. Warming temperatures are the likely culprit, as they are to blame for the meltdown of all other tropical glaciers, but precipitation change is likely equally responsible. Higher temperatures at higher elevations means rain falls instead of snow. No snow means no ice, no replenishment of lost glacial mass.


Published: 17 Jul 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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