As the depletion rate of snow atop Mount Kilimanjaro reaches alarming levels and experts struggle to identify the exact cause of the phenomenon, there seems to be no remedy in sight to save the majestic snow cap from disappearing.
With different schools of thought, some experts have blamed global warming as the cause of the problem. Others blame it on the encroachment by human activities surrounding the mountain. There is also the argument that the depletion is caused by geothermal processes within the earth’s crust.
A recent study by Lonnie Thomson of Ohio State University indicates that the snow on Mount Kilimanjaro has shrunk from about 12 square kilometers in 1912 to about two square kilometers today, an 80 per cent reduction of snow. Investigations carried out by The Express revealed that if the rate of snow depletion persists at the same rate, all the snow atop Mount Kilimanjaro will be gone between 2010 and 2020.
“Geothermal processes such as movement of the plates within the rift system can lead to the emission of heat within the mountain crust due to the friction caused by the movement of the plates,” said Dr John Saburi, Senior Lecturer at the University College of Lands and Architectural Studies (UCLAS). He further explained that being a volcanic mountain, the Kilimanjaro is also at the risk of shrinking.
Dr Crispin Kainabo, Senior Lecturer at University of Dar es Salaam, Department of Geology, explained that apart from the internal processes within the rift valley whereby the seismic activities are rampant, Mount Kilimanjaro is more vulnerable to the impact of global warming because of its geographical location within the tropics.
“Kilimanjaro is in the temperate region; it is more likely to be affected by global warming compared to the mountains in the poles such as the Alps,” he said.
Supporting his view, Deodatus Kashasha from the Tanzania Meteorological Agency (TMA) said that the depletion of snow atop Mount Kilimanjaro was caused by the global warming phenomenon. The phenomenon itself is said to be a result of emission of green house gases and it is the industrialised nations that have been held mainly responsible for this.
Kashasha mentioned the green house gasses which when released in the atmosphere cause global warming as water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, chlorofluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride.
Dr Mohamed Mhita, the Director General of Tanzania Meteorological Agency, told The Express that global warming has the same effect on the all the mountains. However, Mount Kilimanjaro is exposed to a greater risk, that is melting of the snow, due to human settlement in the region, he explained.
“In the poles, you don’t have people living and human activities can accelerate emission of heat, which can lead to the melting of the snow,” he said, adding that the amount of snow atop Mount Kilimanjaro has depleted drastically in the past ten years.
“In 1990, the snow depth was much thicker than the depth measured in 2002,” he observed.
The expert also warned that if the snow continues to melt at the same rate, Mount Kilimanjaro will not be the same by the next decade. “There will be no beauty again. Our mountain will not look the same,” he declared.
An expert on Geophysics, Dr Issac Marobhe of the University of Dar es Salaam, argued that geodynamics have negligible impact on the depletion of snow on Mount Kilimanjaro.
“Snow has been there while the internal process within the crust has been constant, hence the probable reason for the depletion is due to other climatic changes,” he said and explained that the climatic changes are external to the earth’s crust.
Meanwhile, Dr Kainabo told The Express, Mount Kilimanjaro is at the risk of erupting if the seismic activities cease and the heat within the crust gets accumulated. “This is a sleeping mountain and it can wake up any time,” he warned.
He said that the tremors and the earthquakes in the surrounding region facilitate the pressure to be released rather than building up within the crust, which can later erupt as either vicious lava or in the form of gas.
“If the lava solidifies, the mountain will have increased in height but if the lava fumes out, it will be a disaster,” he said, adding that the exact time for the eruption cannot be predicted.
In his comments, Iasaria Mangalili, Environmental Officer in the Vice President’s Office (Environment), told The Express that snow depletion was caused by global warming, which is caused by carbon dioxide emissions, which are reflected by the sun’s rays upon reaching the earth’s surface.
“This causes the sun’s rays falling on the earth’s surface to have an increased heat hence causing the glaciers to melt,” he opined.
He, however, said a remedy for the problem was next to impossible as it involved the use of alternative fuels that do not emit green house gases and to control human activities.
When contacted by The Express, Director for National Environmental Management Council (NEMC) Ruzika Muheto admitted that although it falls within their mandate, NEMC has not done any research on the subject.
“NEMC is worried. Yes, we know that the snow is melting but we have not done any research because of limited resources,” he said.