There are still glaciers right in the middle of Africa...for now

Illustration for article titled There are still glaciers right in the middle of Africa...for now

It's fair to say that Africa isn't really known for its snow and ice. Indeed, that sentence could probably win several understatement of the year contests. But a few tropical glaciers can be found there. But for how much longer?


Since I'm already saying things that aren't especially shocking, I should point out that tropical glaciers are by far the rarest type in the world. This isn't just because average temperatures are so high and so little snow falls in these regions, though of course that's a big part of it. These glaciers can only form on mountains with high enough altitude to shield them from the hotter temperatures below, and part of the problem is that the tropics simply aren't home to many such mountains.

The image you see up top - which also happens to be a pretty breathtaking view of Mt. Meru taken from near the summit of Kilimanjaro - shows a bit of the glacial ice that still persists on Africa's highest peak. The big question is just how much longer the ice will last. On Kilimanjaro alone, the ice cover is just 25% of what it was a century ago, and the volume of glacial ice is now just 20%.

You can see just how fast the ice is disappearing by looking at this photo of the peak's Furtwängler Glacier from 2003 and this one of the same region from 2005 - at least some of those areas had been covered by ice for more than ten thousand years before the recent melting. It's estimated that the glacial ice of Kilimanjaro could be completely gone by 2020, perhaps even 2015. Considering just how long these glaciers were able to survive on the world's hottest continent, their relatively sudden disappearance is a particularly compelling demonstration of the far reach of climate change.

The picture isn't much rosier on the nearby Mount Kenya or in the Ruwenzori Range that straddles the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The BBC has a great gallery here of the recent explorations of the Ruwenzori Range's vanishing glaciers. They're definitely worth taking a look at, particularly when it's an open question just how much longer the glaciers will even be around to see.

Image by appenz on Flickr.



In the two pictures of the Furtwängler Glacier — the actual glacier itself looks roughly the same size, shape, and position...the only difference is the snow around it. Had the peaks been covered with snow year-round, or is it possible one of those photos is from the summer months, and the other from the colder parts of the year, when you'll find more snow at the peaks?