Wednesday :: Nov 4, 2009

The Snowless Kilimanjaro, The Glacierless National Park

by Turkana

To a lot of people, the issue of global warming and climate change seems too large and abstract to comprehend. Emissions levels and carbon trading and ocean acidification and methane and more methane and the humanitarian and political impacts of up to 200,000,000 people being displaced, and many people are too overwhelmed even to begin to know what to think. It's not only those susceptible to astroturf deniers, and it's not only the deliberately astonishingly irresponsible, it's also the many people who do know we have a problem, but who don't understand the depth of the crisis. When trying to explain global warming and climate change, sometimes, a simple image or concept will help. The science journal Nature just reported one:

The snows of Kilimanjaro are rapidly disappearing and will be gone by 2033, predicts the most detailed analysis yet of the iconic glaciers gracing Africa's highest peak.

In addition to shrinking in area, Kilimanjaro's glaciers are thinning from the top down, says Ohio State University's Lonnie Thompson, lead author of the new study. "They're being decapitated," he says. "In fact, they're probably not really glaciers anymore. They're remnants of another climate."

Yes, in less than 25 years, the legendary snows of Kilimanjaro will be gone. Does that seem real enough? How about a Glacier National Park without any glaciers? National Geographic had this one, in March:

It's an oft-repeated statistic that the glaciers at Montana's Glacier National Park will disappear by the year 2030.

But Daniel Fagre, a U.S. Geological Survey ecologist who works at Glacier, says the park's namesakes will be gone about ten years ahead of schedule, endangering the region's plants and animals.

The 2030 date, he said, was based on a 2003 USGS study, along with 1992 temperature predictions by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Three years earlier than the end of Kilimanjaro's snows. And the Arctic Ocean? From the BBC, just a few weeks ago:

The Arctic Ocean could be largely ice-free and open to shipping during the summer in as little as ten years' time, a top polar specialist has said.

"It's like man is taking the lid off the northern part of the planet," said Professor Peter Wadhams, from the University of Cambridge.

The U.S. Geological Survey's benchmark glaciers are vanishing. The ice sheets of Antarctica are collapsing faster than was anticipated. The the ice sheets of Greenland are melting faster than was anticipated. A Bolivian glacier is gone, years before was expected. The people of Papua New Guinea's Carteret Islands have already begun their evacuation. The president of Kiribati is appealing to nations to relocate its people.

The impacts of global warming are happening now. They are happening faster than had been expected. The United Nations Environment Programme just reported:

The pace and scale of climate change may now be outstripping even the most sobering predictions of the last report of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC).

An analysis of the very latest, peer-reviewed science indicates that many predictions at the upper end of the IPCC's forecasts are becoming ever more likely.

Meanwhile, the newly emerging science points to some events thought likely to occur in longer-term time horizons, as already happening or set to happen far sooner than had previously been thought.

But if that's too much for you to explain to those just dipping their toes into the rising waters of reality, keep it simple: the snows of Kilimanjaro soon will be gone; so will the glaciers of Glacier National Park; the Arctic will be ice-free in the summer. Let them get their minds around those simple concepts, and then they may be ready to hear the real news. And then, hopefully, they will begin to be ready for the crisis management this crisis requires.

Turkana :: 6:13 AM :: Comments (23) :: Digg It!