The “Melt” of Kilimanjaro or the “Trick” of Tropical Ice

Who could have predicted that Ernest Hemingway’s novel, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” would be a victim of “Global Warming” decades after its publication? Al Gore, searching the planet for visual examples which would best warn the public about the deteriorations provoked by rising global temperatures, found one in the apparently shrinking ice cap of Mt. Kilimanjaro. How ironic, the snows of Kilimanjaro are melting from global warming, something that surely would render Hemingway’s book …well, sort of a relic of cooler days gone by.  But Al Gore and the “Global Warming” proponents are banking on the general public not knowing a thing about Kilimanjaro the actual mountain, or anything about the novel apart from the catchy title. Yet, fiction is not what we want to discuss, but fact. And the “fact” of anything “melting” at the top of Kilimanjaro is a “fact” that is totally dependent on an un-informed public not challenging it.

Mt. Kilimanjaro, a volcano rising just over 19,000 feet from sea level, located in the East African nation of Tanzania, is somewhat unique – a mountain on the equator with a glacier at its summit, rising above the hot savannah, a grassland game park with lions, elephants, zebras, and wildebeest, nibbling about under acacia and crimson-blossomed flame tree shade – with red-wrapped and colorful bead-adorned traditional Masai warriors strolling about, visiting, tending their cattle, minding the homesteads and families amidst the flora and fauna. There are glaciers on mountains near the tropical equator elsewhere in the world, so it’s not truly unique. What does make it more uniquely interesting is information that Al Gore didn’t offer when he claimed that “global warming” was melting the ice on Kilimanjaro. That would be an inconvenient fact – Kilimanjaro’s sister peak, Mt. Kenya.

Mt. Kenya, situated in the East African nation of Kenya, next door to Tanzania, is a volcano like Kilimanjaro, also just over 19,000 feet and is close by on the other side of the equator; the mountains are the two most distant points on the earth which can be seen from each other. And, what are the odds? … Mt. Kenya also has a glacier at its summit. But unlike Mt. Kilimanjaro, and despite the nearly identical circumstances, Mt. Kenya’s glacier doesn’t lend itself so well to photographic “evidence” of any sort of …“melting,” so it’s never mentioned. Logically, if “global warming” is melting the glacier on Mt. Kilimanjaro, then it must be melting the glacier on Mt. Kenya at a very similar rate.
Because the two mountains sit at the equator, their summit temperatures remain in a relatively constant range; days at the equator do not shift the way they do as in latitudes approaching the poles. Instead, they have a steady twelve hours of daylight, twelve hours of night with very little variation, 365 days a year. Literally, there can be more than a 100 degree decline in temperature as one ascends from the sultry bases to the frigid summits of both mountains. Mt. Kilimanjaro’s glacier doesn’t look like a flowing sort of glacier found in seasonally-affected mountains, it’s a big block of ice sitting at the rim, and temperatures there at 19,000 feet lurk at negative 3 degrees F and lower. That would be 35 degrees below freezing point. There is very little atmosphere at 19,000 feet, the air is very thin and has a very low capacity to hold any sort of heat or water vapor, so it’s extremely dry and cold, much too cold to “melt” anything.

But Al Gore showed photos of a once bigger ice cap than today. There are at least two factors. One, the snowfall has been measurably less as the region has been in a drought for over decade. There just hasn’t been any significant rainfall, and so, little snowpack added up top. But nearby Mt. Kenya has had closer to average rainfall, and its glacier isn’t showing much change in size, so the drought is a localized problem. Rains in that region resemble very much Arizonan rain patterns – produced by cells rather than comprehensive cloud cover. Two, at the summit, a different process is at work. In extremely cold, dry conditions, the ice/solid to water/liquid to water vapor/gas transformation skips a step. Under the right conditions, ice can “sublimate” or evaporate into the air without any melting. In the bitter cold and extremely dry environment of the summit at over 19,000 feet, it is simply too cold for melting. “Sublimation” is not a function of “warming” but of chilling.

 The snows of Kilimanjaro have not been “melting” from “global warming.” At 19,000 feet, the thin atmosphere will never be dense enough at that altitude to hold heat even with any potential rise in global temperatures at lower altitudes. The “fact” of the “melting” is not a fact, but a fraud or in today’s debate, a “trick” to hide the truth. 32 degrees F has a meaning and a significance that too many people today do not apply to real life.

Time to refresh ourselves of that old adage: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

An excellent article regarding extensive background and research into the conditions for sublimation, solar radiation and recorded temperatures is found in The American Scientist, Vol. 95, 2007 Sigma Xi, “The Shrinking Glaciers of Kilimanjaro.” Authors: Philip W. Mote and Georg Kaser


  1. Note: The author hiked to the Kibo summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in 1981. It is one of the highest non-technical hikes in the world, and is near the limits of hiking without oxygen tanks. The higher altitudes are extremely bare, comprised of dark crushed volcanic ground, empty of any organic material, and much of it above 14,000 feet is bleak with scattered rocks strewn from old eruptions, looking very, very much like Mars. At the summit, the glacier is a startling white sweep of ice at the rim, with very very tall, sheer vertical walls, quite a dramatic contrast against the dark earth. Hiking at those altitudes is extremely fatiguing due to low oxygen levels in the thin air, and the three day trek to the summit is purposely paced to reduce the chances of altitude sickness. In 2006, the author returned to the Amboseli Game Park, at the base of Kilimanjaro, and chatted with Masai living there who confirmed over a decade of lower than average rainfall.

  2. Donutwarrior says

    I’ve heard speculation that land use changes around the mountain have had an impact as well. But that won’t sell AGW. About time the phony “consensus” unravels….

  3. Regarding around the mountain. We saw Amboseli Game Park twenty years ago and then back again in 2006. It really didn’t look as nice. Drought definitely has had an impact, but not so far away to the slightly northwest is Masai Mara, which looked quite nice – more extensive grassy savannah – excellent for the migratory herds like wildebeest. Amboseli has had lower than normal rainfalls, so it’s not zero, but low and is stressing the place a bit, certainly, but it had more trees … and the operative word is “had.” Elephants in Amboseli are destroying the park and areas around it. They have a bad habit of pulling up or knocking down entire trees to nibble on the tender green parts. They aren’t migrating as far as they used to (more human spaces closed off) so they stay in a smaller zone and tear it up.
    Traditional tribal Masai who live in and around the park can’t stand them, but can’t touch them … foreign interference to protect elephants without considering the local consequences of such a lop-sided policy … another subject for another day perhaps!

  4. Just for fun – a rough comparison:
    Humphrey’s Peak by Flagstaff is 12,633 ft.
    Kilimanjaro is just over 19,000 ft, about half again higher, and about 2.5 times the height of Mingus Mountain (about 7,500 ft).

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