Mt. Kilimajaro: Effects of Global Warming

by Alana Cowan

Mt. Kilimanjaro, which is comprised of three volcanic cones, Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira, is an expansive volcanic mountain in Tanzania, Africa. Mt. Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa, and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Over the past century, this popular tourist destination, with its enormous biodiversity and rich historical background, has experienced the disappearance of more than 80% of its ice caps. The diminishing glaciers atop Kilimanjaro, specifically Kibo’s volcanic cone, are recognized as a symbol of changing climate in Africa as well as a strong indication of the dire effects that global warming has on our planet.

The Scope of the Problem 

In the late 1880s, the summit of Kibo was completely covered by an ice cap with outlet glaciers cascading down the western and southern slopes. The period from 1912 to present has witnessed the disappearance of more than 80% of the ice cover on Kilimanjaro, with devastation continuing at a progressively faster rate. From 1912 to 1953 there was approximately 1% annual loss, while 1989–2007 saw 2.5% annual loss. Of the ice cover still present in 2000, 26% had disappeared by 2007. Source:

At this current rate, Kilimanjaro is expected to become ice-free some time between 2022 and 2033, and the summit’s glaciers are likely to be gone within a few decades.

What’s the Cause? 

While the current thinning of Kilimanjaro’s ice fields appears to be unique within its almost twelve millennium history, it points to what global warming has done to our planet over the past century. However, it is also important to keep in mind that deforestation, the clearing trees for farmland, may have also led to changes in temperatures and precipitation patterns that have at least contributed to the melting of the glaciers.

What does this mean for Tanzania?

Case in point, the ice loss is bad news for Tanzania. Tanzania’s main source of income is tourism. When the glacier’s vanish, the mountain may not draw in the same amount of tourists per year, which is approximately 30,000 to 40,000, and about 10,000 a year who try to climb Kilimajaro. Moreover,  farmers at the mountain’s base that rely on glacial melt water for irrigation will be in short supply. This devastating loss points to the broader trend of long-term global warming and gives us a wake up call for a call to action.

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