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The Disappearing Glaciers of Africa

Africa is typically isn’t the place that inspires visions of ice and glaciers, yet surprisingly, there are a number of glaciers in Africa, and they are all located near the equator. If you recollect your high school science lessons, you’ll remember that climate depends not only on latitude but also altitude of the place, and Africa is home to some majestic mountains, three of which proudly boast glaciers. They are Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Mount Kenya in Kenya, and the Rwenzori Mountains bordering Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. But these glaciers are rapidly disappearing. Since 1900, the glaciers in Africa has lost 80% of their surface area. By the 1990s, they had a total surface area of only 10.7 square km. Scientists predict that by 2030, the last remaining ice would be melted away.


Rwenzori mountain. Photo credit

Mount Kilimanjaro is 5,895 meters high and is located in northern Tanzania, 300 km south of the equator. It is the highest mountain in Africa and the world’s highest free-standing mountain. The white cap of Kilimanjaro varies in size over the year, and may grow and shrink depending on solar radiation, precipitation and other factors. But since the 1900s, there is clear evidence that the glaciers have shrunk consistently and dramatically. An estimated 82% of the icecap that crowned the mountain when it was first thoroughly surveyed in 1912 is now gone, and the ice is thinning as well. At some places the ice is just one meter thick. According to some projections, if recession continues at the present rate, the majority of the glaciers on Kilimanjaro could vanish in the next 15 years.

Likewise, the glaciers on Mount Kenya, Africa’s second highest mountain, and those on Rwenzori is retreating as well. Rwenzori has been dubbed the "African Alps," and the "Mountains of the Moon", and its glaciers are the highest water source for the Nile River. Its disappearance threatens dozens of plant and animal species that call the range home.

The disappearing glaciers provide compelling demonstration of the effects climate change. Gradual increase in air temperature and lack of rainfall is believed to be the major cause. It is unsure just how much longer the glaciers will be around to see.


Glaciers on Margherita Peak on Rwenzori mountains. Photo credit


Wings of Kilimanjaro. Photo credit


A glacier on Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. Photo credit


Margherita Glacier on Rwenzori mountain. Photo credit


A glacier on Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. Photo credit

Sources: NatGeo / CNN / GRID-Arendal / Africa's glaciers - UNEP

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