The white ice on top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, that Hemingway wrote about so lovingly in his book “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” is melting away. A survey has found that 82 percent of the ice field that has existed on Kilimanjaro since 1912 has melted, says Lonnie G. Thompson of Ohio StateUniversity.
“The ice will be gone by 2015 or so,” he says. He mapped the ice cap last year and compared his results with a survey conducted in 1912. Some of the rivers and streams in Tanzania that are fed by the mountain’s snow melt havealready dried up. “A hospital in Tanzania that depended on a river now has to get its water elsewhere,” says Thompson.
Other mountain glaciers, in Tibet and Peru, are also disappearing. The glacier in the Andes of Peru was shrinking about 12 feet a year in 1979. Now the melting has accelerated to more than 500 feet a year. On a glacier inTibet, measurements taken since 1955 show that the average air temperature is rising a half degree a decade, causing a dramatic melt-off.
Thompson says that “The tropical glaciers are the most sensitive sites on Earth to show change. If you look at the Earth as a whole, glaciers are retreating everywhere except in Norway. They are advancing there because of increased snowfall.” This could also be a result of global warming, whichcauses weather extremes.
While a famous glacier melts, a new report from Geneva, entitled “Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability,” predicts that ice caps and polar regions around the world will continue to melt for centuries.
The report, which summarizes 1,000 pages of research by 700 scientists, gives detailed information about how global warming will effect specific countries and regions.
Africa: Grain yields are expected to decrease and there will be less available water. Desertification will be made worse by reductions in average annual rainfall. Coastal areas will be hit by rising sea levels and erosion.
Asia: High temperatures, drought, floods and soil degradation will diminish food production in dry and tropical areas, while productivity may increase in the north. Rises in the sea level and more intense cyclones will displace tens of millions of people in coastal areas.
Europe: Southern Europe will become more prone to drought. In other areas, flood hazards will increase. Half of Alpine glaciers could disappear by the end of the 21st century. Heat waves may affect tourist destinations and less reliable snow conditions could hurt ski tourism. Agricultural productivitymay increase in the north but decrease in the south.
Latin America: Floods and droughts will become more frequent. Yields of major crops will decrease. Subsistence farming in northeastern Brazil could be threatened. Diseases such as malaria and cholera will increase.
North America: Food production could benefit from modest warming, but there will be strong regional effects, like declines in Canada’s prairies and the U.S. Great Plains. Sea level rises could increase coastal erosion and flooding and lead to more storm surges, particularly in Florida and theAtlantic coast. Malaria, dengue fever and lyme disease may expand their ranges and there will be more heat-related deaths.
Polar regions: Climate changes in these areas will be among the biggest anywhere on Earth. The extent and thickness of Arctic ice has already decreased. Permafrost has thawed and the distribution and abundance of species has been affected. There may be irreversible impacts on ice sheets, global ocean circulation and sea levels.
Island nations: A projected sea level rise of two tenths of an inch per year for the next 100 years will cause loss of land and dislocation of populations. Coral reefs will be damaged and fisheries harmed. Tourism will be effected by these changes.
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