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!]

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