16 March 2005

Mount Kilimanjaro snow-cap melting

Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, has been photographed stripped of its millennia-old snow- and glacier-peak for the first time, in a move used by environmentalists to show the perils of global warming.

The picture has for the first time caught the Tanzanian mountain's dramatic change, according to the Climate Change group which led a project to document the effects of global warming across the world.

The launch of the photo project NorthSouthEastWest coincides with a meeting of environment and energy ministers from 20 countries at a British-sponsored conference on climate change that opened on Tuesday in London.

It also comes ahead of a further meeting of G8 ministers in Derbyshire, north England, later in the week.

Mount Kilimanjaro's crowning snow and glaciers are melting and likely to disappear completely by 2020, triggering major disruptions to ecosystems on the dry African plains that spread out at its feet below, scientists have warned.

The forests on Kilimanjaro's lower slopes absorb moisture from the cloud top hovering near the peak, and in turn nourish flora and fauna below.

"Rising temperatures threaten not only the ice-cap, but also this essential natural process," Climate Change warned.

The mountain, one of Africa's most stunning landscapes, was memorialised in Ernest Hemingway's 1938 short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro. The story, and the 1952 film which followed, has brought tens of thousands of visitors to Tanzania for decades.

The loss of snows on the 5 892m peak, which have been there for about 11 700 years, could have disastrous effects on the Tanzanian economy, US researchers warned in a 2001 Science article warning about the melting.

The NorthSouthEastWest project also includes images from Magnum agency photographers of 10 "climate hotspots" including the Marshall Islands and Greenland, as well as Kilimanjaro, showing "the most dramatic examples of the impact of global warming", Climate Change's Denise Meredith told AFP on Tuesday.

The printed collection of the photos is being given to the environment and energy ministers gathered in London and will be distributed at the G8 meeting.

The photos are on exhibit through May 15 at London's Science Museum. The British Council will also tour the exhibition in 100 cities in 60 countries in 2004 and 2005, Climate Change said.


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