November 26, 2002

Global Warming Melting Glaciers Worldwide
The Snows of Mount Kilimanjaro May Be Gone in 20 Years

Mt. Kilimanjaro
The mountain snows made famous by Ernest Hemingway are melting at an alarming rate. Scientists at Ohio State University estimate that the snowcap of Mount Kilimanjaro, formed more than 11,000 years ago, will be history in 20 years. They found that the ice fields on Africa's highest mountain have shrunk by over 80 percent in the past century. A temperature rise in Tanzania, amounting to about one full degree Fahrenheit since 2000, is eroding the 150-foot-high blocks of ice that gave the mountain its distinctive white cap (

This same melting trend is being noted worldwide. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reports, in their Fall 2002 issue of OnEarth, that Mount Everest, in Asia, is easier to climb nowadays since "the glacier that ended at Hillary and Norgay's base camp in 1953 has retreated 3 miles" [editor's italics] (OnEarth, Vol. 24, No. 3, NRDC, p. 8). This glacier retreat is causing enormous growth in the size of glacial lakes, which poses a threat of disastrous flooding not only in Tanzania but in Nepal, India, Bhutan, and Tibet.

OnEarth also reports that the Mont Blanc glacier, in the French Alps, retreated over 1700 feet between 1980 and 1995. Based on this rate of melting, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that up to 95% of the glacier's mass will be gone by 2100.

In South America, the Antizana glacier in Ecuador has retreated more than 300 feet in the last 8 years. Bernard Francou, director of research for the French government's Institute of Research and Development, estimates 80% of South America's glaciers will disappear within 15 years (OnEarth, Vol. 24, No. 3, NRDC, p. 8).

Great Ocean ConveyorScientists also are keeping a wary eye on Arctic melting. Freshwater, believed to be coming from melting ice from Greenland, is mixing with the Gulf Stream and is changing (and could even shut down) the thermohaline circulation pattern (see map, right) in the Atlantic Ocean that distributes heat and moisture and thus affects the weather in America and Europe.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in Massachusetts, reports that conditions are ripe for another small ice age like the one that occurred between 1300 and 1850. "It could happen in 10 years," says Terrence Joyce, of Woods Hole. "Once it does, it can take hundreds of years to reverse" (Discover). The average temperature could drop 5 degrees Fahrenheit over much of the United States and 10 degrees in the Northeast, northern Europe, and northern Asia.

The scientific proof that the Earth is undergoing climate change is in. And yet the US government is failing to address these concerns.

As the 2002 United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, was ending, the crowd chanted, over and over, "What do we do about America?"

For a more information, see:



United Nations Environmental Programme

The Guardian

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