Wednesday, December 16, 2009

AGU award to Thomas Mölg!

Congratulations to Dr. Mölg on receipt yesterday of AGU's 2009 Young Investigator Award. Thomas has been an invaluable Kilimanjaro collaborator since July 2002, when he joined Ray Bradley and myself on the mountain. Details of Thomas' selection, his bio and publications are here (along with a link to award ceremony video).

-Doug Hardy, UMass Geosciences

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Persnickety or seeking truth?

Earlier this month we published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) detailing changes in Kilimanjaro's ice area and thickness since 2000. This is essentially an update on our 2002 paper in Science, and I am the only non-OSU co-author. Considerable media interest followed, as typical for anything new on Kilimanjaro glaciers.

Was this paper reported differently than the 2002 paper? My impression in that many traditional media outlets simply reproduced the Ohio State University Press Release (Lonnie Thompson is first author), rather than using journalists to ask probing questions; much cheaper!

In the aftermath, blogs are discussing how this paper was reported. For example, Tom Yulsman in the Univ. of Colorado Boulder's Center for Environmental Journalism has created an assignment in which students read and analyze the PNAS paper and it's media coverage! And Cruel Mistress has critiqued Sindya Banhoo's article in the NY Times. Andy Revkin got such discussion underway with a NY Times piece back in 2004.

Anyway, another article on issues pertaining to the PNAS paper was published yesterday in the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Journalist Kristin Palpini details my perspective on the research and it's impacts in the media. Although there are a few errors in the article, she does a nice job of illuminating the "debate." As continuing Kilimanjaro discussion in the blogosphere reveals, details are important!

[UPDATE 12/16:  The future of science journalism is discussed in a couple articles published this week, at PoynterOnline and at Nature News.  In the Poynter piece, Natalie Angier (NY Times) notes that "coverage tends to be more fragmented and less comprehensive than it once was" and Charles Petit (Knight Science Journalism Tracker) "doesn't recall seeing very many investigative science pieces..." The article by Mallary Jean Tenore references a July 2009 Pew study which "found that 76 percent of scientists surveyed say news reports don't distinguish between findings that are well-founded and those that are not." And in the Nature article, Andy Revkin discusses how the "role of journalism is definitely shrinking."]

[UPDATE 1/7:  Jack Williams' blog entry yesterday has a nice discussion of the problem mentioned above, following some thoughts about low temperatures across the eastern U.S.]

-Doug Hardy, UMass Geosciences

Monday, November 16, 2009

Snowfall continues

Consistent with the regional rainfall picture, Kilimanjaro's summit is seeing day after day of snowfall. Last week the Northern Ice Field saw another ~10 cm of snow accumulation!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Short rains begin

On the Northern Ice Field, snow began accumulating on 26 October as the regional "short rains" got underway. Timba at Ahsante Tours & Safaris reports that Kibo was white on Monday Morning (2 Nov.), and telemetry shows that by Tuesday morning 8 cm blanketed the glacier at the AWS.

So for the 2009 dry season, between the last snowfall in mid-June and the end of October, surface lowering at the Northern Ice Field weather station was 52 cm. This amount is not atypical, as the short rains have come more-or-less on schedule. However, since the dry period on Kilimanjaro began in June 2008, ablation has been quite exceptional - over 1.5 meters of ice. An interesting perspective on the East African drought's cumulative impact - just prior to the short rains - can be seen on NASA's Earth Observatory website. Now, in this El Nino year, flooding has become a problem further north in Kenya.

-Doug Hardy, UMass Geosciences

Thursday, October 29, 2009


The long dry interval at the summit is over, and snow is again accumulating for the first time since mid-June. Our recent fieldwork aspired to visit the glaciers just before the short rains began, and it seems that our timing worked out. After descending on the 9th, we experienced a heavy, extended rain event the next day at Mbahe (near Marangu). Humidity remained high that afternoon at the AWS, with possibly a dusting of snow. Then snow and sustained high humidity was recorded on the 15th and 16th; during this time Simon reports spending a "hot night" in the crater (i.e., thick cloud cover). AWS measurements show that the wet season really got underway this week on Monday. Telemetry through this morning shows that snowfall continued through Tuesday and Wednesday, with a net of ~4 cm. This is enough to bring the glacier surface albedo up by 20-30 percent!

Fieldwork photos

Here is a link to photos taken on the mountain during Sep/Oct fieldwork. With very little seasonal snowcover due to the drought, we had a rare opportunity to observe glacier margins and ice features. Over the course of a week at the summit, we attended to the automated weather station (AWS), offloaded data from other dataloggers, measured and redrilled ablation stakes, and collected basal-ice samples for dating.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A week at the summit

Just back from fieldwork on the summit glaciers, between 3 & 9 October. Conditions were very dry, allowing us to observe processes un-hidden and un-influenced by snow. Varying weather conditions beautifully demonstrated how sublimation and melting fluctuate in their dominance, even on horizontal surfaces. We came across ablation stakes not seen since 2001 - along with a few surprises buried for perhaps centuries. More photos to follow soon!

-Doug Hardy, UMass Geosciences

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Meltwater Runoff

From Karanga camp on Kilimanjaro (4025m), Doug and Mark Jonas made an important observation today via text msg:  "Extensive ribbons of ice were seen below all of the south slope glaciers; flowing water could be seen even without binoculars from ~3km distance, and was clearly heard." They are anxious to see conditions at the summit. [Late October update: listen here to a recording of this distant meltwater runoff (with White-naped Ravens)]

Friday, September 18, 2009

October fieldwork

Yes... a chainsaw! We depart next week for fieldwork at the weather station and on the glaciers. Conditions at the summit are currently very dry, as elsewhere in East Africa where the drought has brought hardships to many (BBC slideshow). With little snowcover, we will be mapping the pattern of albedo and ablation on the glaciers, and collecting ice samples for 14C dating - a collaborative effort with Margit Schwikowski at Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland. Obtaining ice samples and keeping them frozen all the way to Switzerland will not be easy! Cutting them from the glacier will employ a powerful, lightweight battery-powered saw made by Troy-Bilt, with no noise and no emissions. Testing of this newly-available saw has been very encouraging. [Late October update:  listen here to this chainsaw in action, cutting glacier ice!]

The left-hand image illustrates the sampling opportunity these glaciers provide (vertical dimension shown ~30m). Updates on the fieldwork, with photos, will appear here in mid-October.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Important new paper

Want the most up-to-date details on Kilimanjaro's glaciers and climate? A paper published Monday in the Journal of Climate is a good place to start. Thomas Mölg is first author, with input from the rest of us working together on this issue since 2002; the title is "Quantifying climate change in the tropical midtroposphere over East Africa from glacier shrinkage on Kilimanjaro." Important insights emerge from spatially-distributed mass balance modeling, replete with enough sensitivity testing to satisfy even those skeptical of this approach.

The crucial role of atmospheric moisture variability on glacier mass balance is demonstrated once again (esp. precipitation dependency), along with many other interesting results. Most encouraging is the indication that further study of glacier retreat on Kilimanjaro will move us toward a better understanding of why equatorial East Africa continues to become drier -- a question of great societal and environmental importance.

Access the paper here.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Another wet season fails

In the last 10 years on the Northern Icefield, the "long rains" have ended by the first of June. If this holds true for 2009, a second consecutive wet season has failed. The 12-month interval prior to 1 June has been the "driest of the century" by far, with a net glacier-surface lowering of 1.3 meters at the weather station. As this volume of ice has evaporated and melted, dust has been concentrating at the surface, augmenting that present before the late-2006 snowfalls. And with snowfall unlikely over at least the next 4 months, the rate of ice loss could exceed that ever witnessed.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mid-month snow

On 11 May, snow began accumulating on the Northern Icefield. Through this morning there has been ~4 cm of net accumulation. Not much in the context of most mountain locations - but enough to raise albedo considerably on the glaciers. Hopefully the event will continue for another couple weeks; Juliana Adosi at the Tanzanian Meteorological Agency tells me that the long rains are forecast to end at the end of the month.

-Doug Hardy, UMass Geosciences

Manuscript flurry

Three papers on Kilimanjaro glaciers have been submitted within the past month, and are now in the review process. The sole-authored encyclopedia entry provides a comprehensive overview of the glaciers characteristics and processes. The other two take rather different perspectives and will be sure to stimulate discussion. Stay tuned!

Submitted to The Holocene: Is the decline of ice on Kilimanjaro unprecedented in the Holocene? (Georg Kaser, Thomas Mölg, Nicolas Cullen, Douglas Hardy, and Michael Winkler).

Submitted to Springer’s Encyclopedia of Snow, Ice and Glaciers.: Kilimanjaro. (Douglas Hardy).

Submitted to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PNAS): Glacier Loss on Kilimanjaro Continues Unabated. (Lonnie Thompson, Henry Brecher, Ellen Mosley-Thompson, Douglas Hardy, and Bryan Mark).

Friday, May 8, 2009

In the beginning, there was Carlos

The beginning of our work on tropical glaciers, that is. Carlos Escobar was our guy in 1996 as we set out to begin climate research on Volcan Sajama in Bolivia. Not just to reach the summit at 6,542 m, not just to camp there for days, but to operate the world's highest-elevation satellite-linked automated weather station. Carlos made it happen and kept it fun, first on Sajama, then on Illimani... the consummate guide who became a friend to us all. And the help and friendship came not only from Carlos, but the whole Escobar family, especially brother Jose Mauro, wife Grissel, niece Monica, Mateo and his other children. International projects can't happen without people like Carlos, who solve the problems and make all the stress of high-elevation research worthwhile.

Today, Carlos passed away after struggling for months with brain cancer. Carlos, our Guía Internacional de Montaña, co-author, Everest summiter just 3 years ago this month, and buen amigo. Compounding the normal emotions is a terrible feeling of helplessness; for all Carlos and his family provided us, not being there to help in such a difficult time is painful...

To all the Escobars, know that all who worked with Carlos and your family are thinking of him, and you. Memories of him live on with each of us. Be strong, live strong...

Doug and the UMass crew

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Long rains late

April was another month of net ablation. There was a small snowfall event which began late in March (see 4/10 entry below), but otherwise there was only a few cm on ~21 April.

May could turn out to be snowy however, as it did in 2003 and 2007 following dry March and Aprils. Conversely, the long rains were finished entirely by this time in 2002, 2004 and 2006 - and failed completely in 2000.

At any rate, for the previous 12 month interval, mass balance on the Northern Ice Field has easily been the most negative of the decade.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Journal of Climate paper

A new paper has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Climate titled "Quantifying climate change in the tropical mid troposphere over East Africa from glacier shrinkage on Kilimanjaro" with authors Thomas Mölg, Nicolas Cullen, Douglas Hardy, Michael Winkler, and Georg Kaser. This group has been collaborating for several years; most are part of the Tropical Glaciology Group at the Univerity of Innsbruck.

The paper examines 19th century recession of the southern-slope Kersten Glacier, by backward modeling with a spatially-distributed mass-balance model. Results indicate that late-19th century precipitation was higher by +160 to +240 mm/yr, dominating the mass budget and producing a larger glacier extent. Today, the Kersten Glacier terminus is ~600 m higher in elevation, and the glacier is loosing mass at ~500 kg/m^2/yr.

-Doug Hardy, UMass Geosciences

Friday, April 10, 2009

Another dry month

Little snowfall on the Northern Ice Field between mid-February and 28 March, satellite telemetry indicates. Only one mid-month event of 2 cm. Then, a snowy interval 28 March to 2 April bringing ~6 cm of accumulation. Six centimeters isn't much, but it is enough to substantially raise the albedo and keep it elevated for several weeks. Hopefully more snow will follow...

-Doug Hardy, UMass Geosciences

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

2009 Long Rains...

seem to be late. Normally, the wet season is underway by now. Through most of March this year, however, conditions remained dry. Very soon we will post a synopsis of measurements on the weather page. Normally this page is updated on the first or second of each month, but we're late this month due to personnel changes in the UMass Climate Center.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Still dry - mid-February

"light dusting of snow" at the summit (1-3 cm), February 16

- Hassan Basagic, Portland State University

Sunday, February 1, 2009

January fieldwork

Only four months since my last trip up, and time for another... unplanned and unbudgeted! The September trip was largely successful, especially in terms of Northern Icefield work. Over the course of 5 days the weather station received a complete service, including change-out of several key instruments, lots of mass balance stakes were visited, and there was time for several GPS surveys. Although a medical emergency precluded visiting the southern glaciers, most objectives were completed and we were hoping that the 'short rains' would begin soon.

No such luck. The 2008 short rains utterly failed, both on the mountain and regionally. In conjunction with conflict earlier in the year, this lack of rainfall brought great hardship to eastern Kenya. By mid-January, Kibo's summit had not seen subsantial snowfall since early June, so very low surface albedo was causing considerable absorption of solar radiation. The impact? Mass loss from horizontal ice surfaces - lots of it! Satellite telemetry from the station revealed a grim reality, that measurements were in jepeordy without a trip to reset (lower) the tower down into the ice (cf. New York Times, Feb. 2001).

Fortunately, collaborators from Innsbruck had been planning a January 2009 trip for several months, and were kind enough to let me piggy-back onto their logistics. This trip was based from the Marangu Hotel's peaceful setting, and their staff supported our effort on the mountain. We spent only 4 nights going up, a bit less than I've found optimal, and then 3 at the summit.

No snow was visible on the mountain from Marangu, or from the east side as we drove around to Rongai - conditions more typical of August. Thereafter though, every day of our trip featured rain and/or snow and/or thunder, except, paradoxically, our final descent through the rainforest.

At the summit, ablation since September was readily apparent. A thin mantle of new snow (5-10 cm, accumulating daily) partially obscurred dirtier ice surfaces than I'd seen in years (see image above). Some horizontal ice surfaces are now quite old (decades to centuries), with high dust concentrations causing low albedo. In just 4 months, ablation had reduced ice thickness by a meter in some places! On one glacier, 7 of 8 mass balance stakes had ablated out, and drilling new holes on 3 different glaciers occupied a chunk of my time. However, work focused on lowering the tower; most of the job was done in just over 2 strenuous hours, thanks to help from Geoffry, Good Luck, Leoned, David and Samuel.

Descending from the summit glaciers in a snowstorm, we pondered whether the short rains were late in arriving, or the long rains were beginning early.

-Doug Hardy, UMass Geosciences