When I was in grad school, I saw a talk by Lonnie Thompson—a paleoclimatologist who climbs the most remote mountain peaks in the world to take ice cores from glaciers. Over the past several decades, he has used ice layers to generate historical records of environmental change at low latitudes (near the tropics) as a useful comparison to the ice core work at Greenland and Antarctica. Hands down, Lonnie has some of the most amazing and treacherous expeditions in the world. If you ever get a chance to see a photo of how they traverse ice crevasses with field gear, it’s amazing.
In a forthcoming article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (open access), Thompson’s team climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa to assess the rate of ice loss on this mountain. Kiliminanjaro has been losing significant ice for decades–as much as 80% gone by 2000.
Although this seems like obvious evidence of climate warming, there has been considerable debate about the additional role of drought. Glacier growth is controlled by precipitation, and if east Africa has experienced drought for the last few decades, this might also be affecting the Kilimanjaro glaciers through (1) reduced snowfall and (2) increased solar radiation.
The team collected 6 cores dating back 11,700 years ago. What did they find?
This is another amazing example of something that is going extinct in our lifetime because of global change.
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