Friday, March 30, 2018

More March snow! [updated x3]

Numerous reports of snowfall on the mountain have been received this month, which in some cases has prevented groups from reaching the summit. While the long rains often begin during March, snowfall this month appears to be somewhat exceptional.

The previous post provides information on early March snowfall. Further details have only recently emerged, because snow on one of the solar panels prevented satellite transmissions for ~5 days during the middle of the month, and then again on 20 March. During this time, extensive cloud cover also prevented acquisition of useful satellite imagery from above.

As March comes to a close, telemetry is working well again (with thanks to Mike Rawlins at UMass Climate System Research Center for help on this). We now know that net snow accumulation for the first 3 weeks of March amounted to 63 cm on the Northern Icefield. As the ESA Sentinel-2 image above shows, snow blankets the entire summit caldera and upper slopes of the mountain (look closely, to discriminate snow from stratus fractus clouds). This is the greatest snow accumulation on the glacier in years -- with additional snowfall likely during the remaining months of the long rains (typically March through May).

For those climbing the mountain in the months ahead, fear not. Snow on the routes will quickly compact and you will have a chance to experience conditions more typical of past decades. Dust will be minimal, beautiful nieve penitentes will grow as the dry season progresses, and you will encounter much happier glaciers. It is also important to keep in mind that this accumulation is surely temporary, and will not change the reality that these glaciers are disappearing rapidly.

[UPDATE 04/02: Another Sentinal-2 image acquired 5 days later provides a clearer depiction of summit snowcover (below; centered further east than image above). Some ablation has taken place, allowing recognition of the caldera rim as well as that of the Reusch Crater and the inner Ash Pit. Snowcover remains sufficiently thick that snow and ice cannot be distinguished at this resolution. We can now see a sharp transient snowline on the west side, at approximately 4750 m - which is 1000 m below the caldera rim.]

[UPDATE 04/10: Sentinel-2 acquired a beautiful snowy image yesterday, with little cloud cover. The GIF below shows 4 registered images, including yesterday's (9 April), one from 5 days earlier, and two from late March. The red circle in the northwest corner is at ~4,700 m, while that in the southeast corner is at ~4,800 m. (Barafu Camp and adjacent trails can be seen just south of the lower red circle.) Although the transient snowline can be seen rising slightly during this period of ~2 weeks, the summit remains entirely snow covered.]

[UPDATE 04/11: Very clear view of Kibo from Moshi this morning, verifying the pattern and magnitude of snowcover seen in the 9 April image above. Thanks to Simon at SENE for the update!]

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

March snow

The first week of March brought a net snow accumulation of nearly 50 cm to the Northern Icefield, which by any measure is a snowy interval on Kilimanjaro. This precipitation follows 25-30 cm of continuous ablation during February, as illustrated in the previous post. A context for the event follows.

Figure 1 (below) shows Sentinel-2 satellite images of the exact same scene, on the last day of February and on 5 March. As detailed in another post, snowcover was primarily confined to steep north-facing slopes by the end of February. Although considerable cloud cover is present around the mountain on the 28 Feb. image, the summit caldera is mostly cloud free. Note the red squares, which are co-located on the 5 March image for orientation. High clouds partially obscure the March image, yet pervasive snowcover is visible. A sharp snowline at ~4,400 m is visible on the left-hand side of the image.

Figure 2 provides two snowy views of the mountain from the Moshi area (SENE credit). Despite low resolution of the 3 March image (upper), substantial snowfall obviously occurred since the satellite image acquired 3 days earlier. Snowcover appears to be somewhat more uniform than it was on 8 March (lower) - consistent with the timing and magnitude of snowfall recorded at the summit weather station.

At the Northern Icefield, satellite telemetry (Argos) shows ~12 cm of accumulation on 2 March, ~15 cm on the 3rd, and ~5 cm on each of the next 4 days. The precision of these daily totals will be improved when higher temporal resolution data are recovered from the automated weather station. Due to the diurnal cycle of climate on the mountain, some ablation likely also occurred on most of these days and is probably responsible for the patchier snowcover on the 8 March image.

A fascinating element of this snowfall period is provided by a depiction of regional-scale circulation (Fig. 3; Cameron Beccario credit). Here, airflow on the morning of 4 March is illustrated at the 500 hPa pressure level, equivalent to Kilimanjaro summit elevation. Airflow at this level appears to have been influenced by Tropical Cyclone Dumazile beginning on the 2nd as the storm intensified, continuing through about 7 March. The relationship between Kilimanjaro snowfall and cyclones in the southwest Indian Ocean is being investigated with collaborators Thomas Mölg and Emily Collier (Friedrich-Alexander University), along with Timba Nimrod.

On this figure, Kilimanjaro's location is shown by the green circle. Note the westerly wind, which prevailed through the snowy interval. Wind measurements at the summit (via telemetry) verify this airflow, which is atypical at the summit (only ~5% of hourly means are from 270° ±30°). Riming of the instruments appears to have occurred during the event, causing data loss particularly on the 3rd, 4th, and 6th. Nonetheless, such verification of airflow by in situ measurements is not a trivial finding - for very few continuous meteorological measurements exist from nearly 6000 m with which to compare output from numerical models.

Finally, figure 4 depicts circulation and humidity on 3 March. Here the highest humidity is shown in cyan color, suggesting a Congo basin origin for this precipitation event.