thaws tropical ice caps
famous snows of Kilimanjaro are rapidly receding, according to Lonnie Thompson, a professor of geological sciences. At least
one-third of the massive ice field atop Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa has melted over the past dozen years. Since
the glacier was first mapped in 1912, about 82 percent of it has been lost.
Kilimanjaro joins the list of ice caps
atop mountains in Africa and South America that Thompson and others predict to disappear over the next 15 years as a result
of global warming.
Peru's Quelccaya ice cap in the Southern
Andes Mountains has shrunk by at least 20 percent since 1963. Most disconcerting, Thompson warns, is that the rate of decline
for one of the main glaciers flowing out from the ice cap, Qori Kalis, has been 32 times greater in the past three years than
it was in the period between 1963 and 1978.
Scientists have long predicted that the
first signs of climate change will appear at the fragile high-altitude glaciers within the tropics. The thaw of the Kilimanjaro
and Quelccaya ice caps are the most dramatic evidence to date.
"These glaciers are very much like the
canaries once used in coal mines," Thompson said. "They're an indicator of massive changes taking place and a response to
the changes in climate in the tropics."
As the glaciers recede, so will the amount
of water that feeds rivers and valleys below the mountaintops.
"The loss of these frozen reservoirs threaten
water resources for hydroelectric power production in the region and for crop irrigation and municipal water supplies," Thompson
said. It is likely that many developing countries will replace the power source by burning more fossil fuels.
"What they're really doing now is cashing
in on a bank account that was built over thousands of years but isn't being replenished. Once it's gone, it will be difficult