Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Snows of Kilimanjaro

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Snows of Kilimanjaro

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: "The Shrinking Glaciers of Kilimanjaro: Can Global Warming Be Blamed?" by Philip W. Mote and Georg Kaser, in American Scientist, July-Aug. 2007.

STARTLING BEFORE-AND-AFTER images of the retreating glacier on Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro in An Inconvenient Truth--the 2006 documentary that helped AI Gore win a share of the Nobel Peace Prize--bear seemingly convincing witness to the growing perils of global warming. As in so many instances in the global climate debate, however, the reasons why Kilimanjaro's 11,000-year-old glacier is dwindling are complex, and "bear only indirect connections, if any," to global warming, according to Philip W. Mote and Georg Kaser.

Tropical glaciers, such as the one on Kilimanjaro's Kibo Peak (19,340 feet) or the Quelccaya ice cap in the Andes (18,600 feet), occur when mountain summits penetrate the subzero air of the upper troposphere. Snow precipitation helps them grow; melting, usually as the result of solar radiation and light wind, and sublimation (ice converting instantly to water vapor due to i dryness in the atmosphere) makes them retreat.

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As Mote, a researcher at the University of Washington, and Kaser, a glaciologist at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, point out, a rise in the global temperature "fails spectacularly" to explain the disappearance of Kilimanjaro's glacier, since the air temperature at the site almost never goes above freezing. …

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