July 28, 2008

Back to Africa: Kilimanjaro Update

We are happy to report that over 100,000 websites come up for a search of “Global Warming and Kilimanjaro” and to be sure you will find plenty of sites proclaiming “Mount Kilimanjaro Photo: Wake-Up Call for Action Against Global Warming” or “Kimimanjaro’s Ice Gone Completely within Two Decades” or “Saving the Snows of Kilimanjaro” or “Mount Kilimanjaro’s Glacier Is Crumbling” or our favorite bland classic “Mt. Kilimanjaro Showing Signs of Global Warming.” Obviously, Al Gore’s documentary raised interest in Kilimanjaro given his claims that the mountain’s glaciers and ice fields were falling victim to global warming. As we have written about in the past there are many who would like to make Mt. Kilimanjaro the poster child of everything that has gone wrong with the global climate. At World Climate Report, Kilimanjaro is a symbol of global warming nonsense!

So why are we so happy about the 100,000 websites on global warming and Kilimanjaro? The reason is that nearly half of the sites debunk Al Gore’s suggestion (insistence) that the snows are retreating because of global warming. Articles with titles such as “The Snow Jobs of Kilimanjaro” and even “Global Warming May Save the Snows of Kilimanjaro” are remarkably common. There are even major stories from normally pro-global warming news services suggesting that Gore may have gone a bit too far overcooking his claims that global warming is the root cause of retreating snows of Kilimanjaro.

The latest issue of Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research contains yet another article on the snows of Kilimanjaro that should further end the nonsense on this subject hyped by the global warming advocates. The work was conducted by scientists from Brunei, the United Kingdom, Massachusetts, and Arizona, and the work “is based in part on work supported by the National Science Foundation and NOAA Office of Global Programs, Climate Change Data and Detection Program.” Duane et al. begin noting “The impact of any climate change on high altitude regions is of fundamental importance to the region itself, its resources, and its surrounding environments. There is evidence in some environments that global warming may be amplified at high elevations, although this may not be universally applicable.” We sense a bit of skepticism here regarding global warming and high altitude locations – we’ll see.

Next we learn “While much work has been concerned with northern hemisphere mountain regions, e.g. Rocky Mountains and the European Alps, little examination has been undertaken of the less populated mountain regions, especially in the tropics. This work introduces the analysis of temperature and humidity regimes on an isolated mountain, Kilimanjaro (3.07°S, 37.35°E, 5892 m), lying approximately 340 km south of the equator. Considered to be the highest free-standing mountain in the world, it gives an ideal location to examine the vertical variability of these two climatic factors and their relationship to theoretical models of mountain thermal circulation. Associated with this is the widespread concern about the retreat of the summit glaciers” We couldn’t agree more, and we look forward to what they will report..

The research team placed meteorological equipment at ten locations on the southwestern slopes of the mountain (Figure 1), and they collected hourly data from September 2004 and January 2006. We seem to always like studies based on real-world data, their findings were certainly not going to disappoint us at World Climate Report.

Figure 1. Map showing location of the 10 meteorological data logger sites on the south-western slopes of Kilimanjaro (from Duane et al., 2008).

Figure 2 shows the average monthly temperatures for seven of the ten locations (as numbered in Figure 1), and what do you notice about the high elevation stations? Of course, the temperatures are consistently below freezing all year! Figure 3 shows the hourly temperatures for these stations, and again, the temperatures high on the mountain stay below freezing at all times of the day! Duane et al. conclude “It has been argued that the reasons for the rapid decline in Kilimanjaro’s glaciers are not primarily due to increased air temperatures, but a lack of precipitation. Indeed our data show that temperatures remain well below freezing at site 10, with daytime maxima averaging -2.1°C. Such low air temperatures keep sensible heat supply to the glacier small and make radiative exchanges more significant. Thus, patterns of cloud cover and humidity are central to understanding glacier-climate interactions.” In other words, even if Gore’s claim of elevated temperatures in the region would be correct (and it isn’t), the increase in temperatures thus far would have had no effect on the frozen world at the top of Kilimanjaro.

Figure 2. Monthly variation in air temperatures from stations (as numbered in Figure 1) on Mt. Kilimanjaro (from Duane et al., 2008)

Figure 3. Diurnal variations in air temperatures from stations (as numbered in Figure 1) on Mt. Kilimanjaro (from Duane et al., 2008)

So what is causing the glaciers to retreat? In this article, Duane et al. argue that “Over time it could be that land-use changes in the forest zone as a result of deforestation have reduced the efficiency of this moisture supply to the higher reaches of the mountain. There has been a substantial program of forest clearance in Tanzania since the 1970s and the mean rate of loss is reported as 412,000 ha yr-1 over the last 5 years (2000–2005). On Kilimanjaro there is also evidence to suggest a depression in the treeline due to increased bushfire frequency and intensity over the last 20–30 years, and drying as a result of deforestation and land-use change has been proposed in many other locations.”

The mountaintop needs more water to sustain the snow, ice, and glaciers, and as many other have noted, any increase in global temperature should increase global evaporation thereby possibly saving the snows of Kilimanjaro.


Duane, W. J., N. C. Pepin, M. L. Losleben, and D. R. Hardy. 2008. General Characteristics of Temperature and Humidity Variability on Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, 40, 323–334.

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