Survey: Kilimanjaro Ice Is Melting

Monday, February 19th 2001, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The white ice atop Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro, enshrined in literature and beloved by tourists, may be disappearing, the victim of a process shrinking mountain glaciers everywhere.

A survey completed last year found 82 percent of the ice field that existed on Kilimanjaro in 1912 has melted, said Lonnie G. Thompson, an Ohio State University researcher.

``The ice will be gone by 2015 or so,'' predicted Thompson, who has studied the worldwide decline of mountain glaciers.

He reported on his research Sunday at the national meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain, towers 19,340 feet above a tropical forest in Tanzania, near the equator. It is the title peak in Ernest Hemingway's novel ``The Snows of Kilimanjaro.'' More than 20,000 tourists climb the mountain slopes each year to experience the novelty of an equatorial ice field.

Thompson said he mapped the Kilimanjaro ice cap last year and compared the results with a survey conducted in 1912.

In 1912, the mountain had 4.6 square miles of ice, but less than a square mile of ice remains, said Thompson.

Some rivers and streams in Tanzania fed by the mountain's snow melt have already dried up.

``A hospital in Tanzania that depended on a river now has to get its water elsewhere,'' he said.

Mountain glaciers in Tibet and Peru are also in rapid retreat.

Measurements taken in the Andes mountains of Peru show that a glacier was melting back at about 12 feet a year in 1978. New measurements taken last year show that the retreat has accelerated to more than 500 feet a year.

On a glacier in Tibet, measurements taken since 1955 show that the average air temperatures is rising by a half degree per decade. The warming is accompanied by a dramatic melt-off of the glacier, said Thompson.

The melting of equatorial glaciers in Peru and Africa are a powerful indication of global warming, said Thompson.

``The tropical glaciers are the most sensitive sites on Earth to show change,'' he said. His research suggests that the snow line, the point on tropical mountains where water is permanently frozen, is climbing higher and higher.

``If you look at the Earth as a whole, glaciers are retreating everywhere except in Norway,'' he said. ``They are advancing there because of increased snowfall,'' which may be caused by global warming.


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