Tuesday, November 21, 2017

South-side glaciers

As late as the 1980s, three distinct bodies of ice remained on Kilimanjaro's caldera rim and spilled over onto the slopes. A century earlier, these icefields - the Northern, Eastern, and Southern - were more-or-less connected as one large ice cap. The map below (after Hastenrath, 1984) depicts the three icefields along with their outlet glaciers, which became more distinct as the ice thinned and retreated.

The mountain's south side is shown in the image above, from a rarely-seen perspective above the village of Mweka. The Diamond Glacier can be seen on the left-hand side; this thin feature appears more like a perennial snowpatch than a glacier, supported by the recent appearance of rocks protruding through the snow and/or ice. At the center of the image is the Kersten Glacier, which separated into upper and lower sections ~10 years ago. Two small blocks of ice left of the Kersten are all that remain of the Heim Glacier, which rivaled the Kersten in length 20-25 years ago. The fragmented ice on the right-hand side is what remains of the Decken Glacier. And in the upper-right corner is the Rebmann Glacier; this portion of the former Southern Icefield is visible from the trail between Stella Point and Uhuru Peak - as well as from Barafu Camp.

Glaciers on Kilimanjaro remain beautiful, and continue to reveal secrets of both their history and that of the mountain's climate. The "Roof of Africa" will be a very different place when the glaciers are gone.

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