KILIMANJARO, Tanzania — One of Mount Kilimanjaro’s most dramatic features is its breathtaking glaciers, which slither across its dormant volcanic plateau and down its crater slope in frigid shades of bluish-green.
And one of the saddest claims of some scientists and environmental activists is that those glaciers are disappearing, perhaps before the end of the decade, another victim of rising global temperatures.
Athumani Juma doesn’t believe it. A guide who’s been hiking the mountain for the past seven years, he laughed when he was asked about the likelihood that Kilimanjaro’s snowcap would disappear soon. The glaciers, he claimed, no longer are shrinking, but growing.
“Before, we were seeing glaciers melting,” he explained during a recent descent from the summit. “But from 2010 to now, we have been seeing new glaciers.”
So is one of the most popularly cited examples of the adverse effects of man-made climate change, Kilimanjaro’s great melt, a myth?
Yes and no, said Georg Kaser, a professor at Innsbruck University in Austria who’s a leading expert on low-latitude glaciers, including Kilimanjaro’s.
The glaciers atop Kilimanjaro’s highest peak, Kibo, are indeed melting, but not because of climate change, he said. They’ve been receding steadily since at least 1880.
“According to our understanding, the Kibo glaciers shrink and will disappear not because of changing climate conditions but because of conditions that are unfavorable in principle: It is simply too dry for these glaciers to exist under normal Holocene conditions,” he emailed.