Africa’s Tropical Glaciers Have Shrunk by 90 Percent, Research Shows

A satellite image of glaciers atop Mount Kenya.

A satellite image of glaciers atop Mount Kenya. Copernicus Sentinel-2 Imagery / European Space Agency

Glaciers atop Mount Kenya, Mount Kilimanjaro, and the Rwenzori Mountains in East Africa are shrinking at an alarming rate as the region heats up.

These glaciers, which sit close to the equator, are highly vulnerable to warming. In the last two decades they have lost roughly half their area, and since the turn of the last century, they have shrunk by 90 percent, according to a new study published in Environmental Research: Climate.

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“A decrease at this scale is alarming,” said lead author Anne Hinzmann, a graduate student at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany. “The glaciers in Africa are a clear indicator of the impact of climate change.”

Driving the retreat is the decline of cloud cover over the mountains, the study said. Sunshine is melting glaciers, turning ice directly into water vapor even on days when the temperature remains below freezing. A concurrent drop in snowfall means the glaciers aren’t being replenished.

Scientists said Africa could see its tropical glaciers all but disappear by the middle of this century.


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