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ENVIRONMENT REPORT - November 15, 2002: Snow Melting on Mount Kilimanjaro - 2002-11-14

This is the VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

A new study says ancient snow on top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania could be gone in about twenty years. Huge layers of ice formed on the African mountain during a wet period about eleven-thousand years ago. But scientists say the ice on top of the mountain is melting because of rising temperatures in recent years.

Lonnie Thompson of Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio led the study. It was published in Science magazine. The scientists used maps, modern navigational satellites and markers placed on the mountain to measure the ice. They found that the ice on Mount Kilimanjaro has shrunk from about twelve square kilometers in nineteen-twelve to about two square kilometers today. That is about an eighty percent reduction in the ice. Scientists say the ice will be gone by two-thousand-twenty if it continues to melt at its current rate.

Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa. It is almost five-thousand-nine-hundred meters high. The top part of the mountain is covered with snow. The mountain rises above flat land, called the savannah. The land is home to many different kinds of animals.

Many stories have been written about the famous mountain. The most famous is Ernest Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” Some ancient beliefs in Africa consider the mountain to be a holy place.

About twenty-thousand people visit Mount Kilimanjaro every year to see the famous snow-topped mountain. It even has its own international airport. The government of Tanzania fears that the melting ice will affect tourism and weaken the economy. The decreasing ice already has reduced the amount of water flowing from the mountain to some Tanzanian rivers. Water from the mountain supplies many villages.

The scientists are working to save pieces of the shrinking ice for more study. The frozen layers tell about Africa’s weather in ancient times. The ice also provides information about the world’s climate. Experts say other ice glaciers around the world are melting because of climate change caused by human activities. But they say natural climate change could be the cause of Mount Kilimanjaro’s problems.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written by Cynthia Kirk.