The Disappearing Glaciers of Africa

Sep 25, 2014 8 comments

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


  1. The only problem with this premise is the African glaciers started growing several years ago and show no sign of stopping. In fact glaciers all over the planet are growing rapidly. The earth has now entered new ice age. Global warming ended in 1997. Todays high school seniors have never lived in a warming world. Their children may never feel the 100+ degree summers that i grew up with. We haven't seen hot summers here in North Texas in three years. Prepare now. The ice is coming.

  2. my goodness, the hidden news of GROWING GLACIERS! Wow, talk about a conspiracy theory, those who know the glaciers of the earth are actually GROWING and keeping those facts completely secret from....uh....who? This comment is nuts and if you every studied this problem iin early 1990's as I did, you would see it was told that as it grew hotter EVERY summer, the bad effect would also be COLDER WINTERS. I applaud your attempt to deny global warming to the point of animal and human extinction, but right now I believe your comment is insane.

  3. It is hard for the dumbasses to continue to deny climate change as there are over 14000 studies and articles proving the existence of climate change and only a few that seek to dispute it. That's why climate change deniers (read: idiots) to provide facts supporting their side.
    Smarten up Americans, climate change is real.

  4. Wow 100 years out of 4.5 billion years of climate trend!

  5. I'm glad that I'm living in the earth's warming phrase. Satellite pictures have shown continuous greening of the desert too!
    Change is the only constant in the universe.
    Some people are weird to think that those who do not believe that men are capable of making drastic changes to the earth's climate believe that there is no climate change at all.
    Those who do believe that men can change the weather should start with their own actions, perhaps something like not driving or turning on the air conditioning in summer nor the heating in winter?

    1. What an ignorant condescending comment. And desertification is increasing, I don't know where you got your greening desert "fact", maybe from the Institute of Irrigation? You seem badly educated and self centered , while you may be glad of climate change, millions of people will suffer including your descendants, grandma.

  6. Okay folks, I have just a few points I'd like to make in regard to this article but before I do I'd like to forewarn any potential readers of this comment...this is going to be a rant and some people may feel it is cruel or that it's stupid, even perhaps going so far as feeling obliged to reply to my comment in a negative way, I'm just letting you know that regardless of your feeling toward what I am stating I am owning it as my own humble and "personal" opinion, which means no matter if you agree or not, that opinion will NOT change! However, I in turn embrace fully the very definition of a personal opinion and will not care in the least if you feel the need to express yours in turn, I can respect that and feel quite confident that I will not care in the least and may even perhaps enjoy a laugh or two at the more cleverly opined feedbacks. Now that this is clear I will begin. I find it rather odd that not a single commentator herein made any mention of one very obvious assessment of this article. While I am loathe to opine on the work of the author, as I can imagine he quite diligently tried his best to write a cohesive and scientifically factual article as he came to understand them, thus inferring that a healthy portion of somewhat knowledgeable nèe educated to at least some degree of readers would lend varying levels of credence to what he has written about. Yet I myself find it quite difficult to gain any sense of understanding of the article as a whole, and it's definitely not due to a lack of understanding of the subject matter, the reason is much more's the authors GRAMMAR! Kudos for all the hard work done to research and study this subject which I'm sure was needed in order to write such an informative piece, however, when I shrug off the first grammatical slip because hey! who hasn't missed a grammatical error or two upon proofread or edit right? Only to end up pretty much cringing with each new line read as the pitiful, dare I say almost seemingly flagrant, disregard for grammatical accuracy is continuously compounded throughout! Honestly, if you're going to publish an article that you hope will help to educate and enlighten people you could have at the VERY least, made a more noble effort to assure the proper use of adverbs, prepositions, and tenses just to name a few! Quite frankly it makes the whole article seem somehow less credible. Rather than envisioning the author as an educated scholar plying his trade writing works about glaciology, I instead get an image of some completely average college student who perhaps upon receiving a higher than usual grade on his science report decided it was worthy enough to thrust out into cyberspace for all to read and admire. It's quite sad really, I mean the mistakes hit you right out of the gate with the very first sentence! And I quote, "Africa is typically isn’t the place", seriously? Or there's, "glaciers in Africa has lost", don't you mean "have lost"? And the great grammar just keeps coming this particularly erroneous line, "the glaciers on Mount Kenya, Africa’s second highest mountain, and those on Rwenzori is retreating", "IS" retreating? You've got to be kidding me!? So fair to say I neither gained nor learned even one shred of new information about desert glaciers in Africa and instead turn away feeling a touch of Fremdscham for you dear author. You should do yourself a favor, the next time you write about something and feel you must rush to get an article done and posted, be smart and hire yourself a proofreader/editor BEFORE you hit send! And that my friend is all she wrote! Good day.


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