Seeing is believing: the evaporation of Mount Kilimanjaro

The equator might be the last place you’d expect to find ice and snow. Yet high in the mountains, at zero latitude, there were once 25 peaks with tropical glaciers. Warming temperatures are causing these glaciers to disappear, and within 25 years, all the ice and snow will be gone.

25zero is a project dedicated to documenting their loss – since 1992, four mountains have already lost their glaciers. In a few decades, it seems that Mount Kilimanjaro’s iconic glaciers will follow suit.


In June 2018, the 25zero team travelled to Africa to tackle the Lemosho route on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Armed with ice-picks, technical gear and video cameras, they captured the mountain’s receding glaciers to bring this spectacular — yet tragic — imagery to the world.

Glacier
People climbing near glacier

Images: Ed Wardle

Leading the charge is environmental explorer and Kathmandu Global Ambassador, Tim Jarvis (learn more about Tim here). In 2013, Tim successfully retraced Ernest Shackleton’s epic 1916 Antarctic polar survival journey — regarded by many as the toughest survival journey of all time.

Not satisfied with just retracing Shackleton’s footsteps, Tim and his team adopted similar gear, equipment and even starvation rations from the early 1900s. It was during this enormous challenge that he was faced with an even greater challenge.

Photo: Tim Jarvis.
Photo: Tim Jarvis.

“Shackleton’s original journey had involved traversing three glaciers on South Georgia Island,” Tim said. “Nearly 100 years later there were only two glaciers for us to cross — the third, the Konig, was an icy lake.”

The challenge ahead

Joining Tim in Tanzania was a team of nine people, including mountaineers, a documentary film-maker, a travel writer and a leading travel blogger. They covered more than 70 kilometres and ascended over 4,000m to reach the Uhuru peak. 

But their real challenge remained in capturing the catastrophic damage that has plagued the mountain. Over the last century, Kilimanjaro has lost more than 85% of its ice cap. Since the 1960s, it has lost more than half of its glaciers.

In recent times, the recession has become so rapid that some studies show that Mount Kilimanjaro could disappear within just 20 years.

Image (below): Ed Wardle

Tim Jarvis in a plane
Men walking towards Mount Kilimanjaro
Man shaking pants outside tent on Mount Kilimanjaro

Images (above): Miles Rowland

Why it matters

In 1992 when the world signed its first climate agreement, 25 mountains at the equator had glaciers. Now there are only 21 and these are vanishing rapidly because of the effects of climate change.

Documenting the loss of Kilimanjaro’s iconic glaciers is particularly important. As a household name, it brings the irreversible plight of equatorial glaciers to the forefront.

But the loss of Mount Kilimanjaro’s glaciers will do more than dent Kilimanjaro's status as a tourist attraction. There will be impacts for the surrounding communities who rely on the mountain's glaciers to release water during the dry season.

In countries like Ecuador in South America, the impacts are even more pronounced. Several major towns and cities rely on glacier run-off as a principal source of their water. The loss of glaciers means water shortages for millions of people.

Besides the impact for people and ecosystems that rely on the glaciers for their survival, the loss of the glaciers is a visual indicator of what we are doing to the planet.

It’s a sobering reminder of how human-induced climate change is real — that our activities can have consequences far from cities or sources of pollution, and that every individual, and business, should take responsibility to reduce their impact.

While we can’t stop the decline of some of these tropical glaciers, it’s hoped the images captured by the 25zero project will prompt real action to ensure that we lose nothing else.


Read more from Tim Jarvis...