Tuesday, April 14, 2020

April Update

Northern Icefield margin with "cloudcam" and AWS. At the edge, note the layer of seasonal snow overlying glacier ice (23 February 2020).
Mid-April is typically not a busy time on Kilimanjaro, midway through the so-called "low season" when climbers avoid what are often the wettest months, associated with widespread convection. However, April this year is unusually quiet, due to the global pandemic; as with National Parks around the world, Kilimanjaro is devoid of human visitors. Schools are closed, and residents are sheltering in place - many without employment. For a region so dependent upon tourism and foreign exchange, this is a devastating time. We empathize with guides and all the other mountain staff who eagerly await the return of clients, and the opportunity to share their mountain with visitors.

Since the short rains diminished in January, a series of snowfall events have maintained fresh snowcover on the glaciers (see images above and below). Summit caldera snowcover has varied between continuous (see 3 Feb image) and patchy (as seen on yesterday's satellite image, above). Snowcover appears to have been gradually decreasing over the past two weeks, as also occurred during February until restored by early March snow.

In most years the long rains continue through May, ending rather abruptly by early June. Precipitation between now and then will determine what climbers encounter once travel and group climbs are safe again. Although recession of the glaciers continues, seasonal snowcover creates an illusion of permanence. At some point during the dry season though (June-September), the snow is likely to completely ablate and the bright ice will again be in stark contrast to the dark volcanic ash - reminding us that the ice will likely be gone within a few decades.

Residual ice with Mawenzi in the background. Note seasonal snow layer on the ice as well as the crater surface (25 February 2020).

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