Destruction of Mt K’njaro Ecosystem is Affecting Tourism, Caution Experts

Jan 2nd, 2014 | By | Category: Biodiversity, Ecosystem Functions, News

zebra-jan2-2014The Guardian: The number of visitors to Mt Kilimanjaro, the country’s most popular attraction is likely to drop in the near future, experts have warned.

Prof Willy R. Makundi, climate change expert and advisor to the United Nations issued the warning yesterday, urging the government to take serious measures to protect the forests from wild fires and other human activities that may destroy the ecosystem.

He said the destruction of forests surrounding the mountain may ultimately lead to a decline in ecotourism although no quantitative studies have been conducted to assess its likely impact.

The decline in water flows has been caused and will continue due to factors affecting the forest and ecosystems on the slopes, most of which are related to human activities and global climate change.

Besides, many plant species, birds and animals that were common in Kilimanjaro no longer appear to be in their former niche.

The effects of climate change in Kilimanjaro, especially on frequency and intensity of forest fires, on cloud cover and atmospheric humidity have contributed significantly to the 90 percent shrinking of the glaciers of Mount Kilimanjaro in the past century, and they are projected to disappear in a few decades.

Commenting on the shrinking glaciers on Mt Kilimanjaro, he said that on a global scale, air temperature is considered to be the most important factor reflecting glacier retreat, but this has not been demonstrated for tropical glaciers.

Rather, a complex combination of changes in air temperature, air humidity, precipitation, cloudiness, and incoming shortwave radiation is considered to govern the fluctuations of tropical glaciers.

Scarcely noticed, are changes in air humidity and atmospheric moisture content that seem to play an underestimated key role in tropical high mountain climate, since the seasonality in the climate of the tropics is solely due to the annual cycle of atmospheric moisture concentration, which is also the case at high altitudes.

In recent years, Kilimanjaro and its vanishing glaciers have become a ‘poster child’ of global warming, attracting broad interest. The glacier has declined from 20 sq km in 1880 to about 2 sq km by 2000.

The dominant reason for this strong recession in modern times is reduced precipitation, humidity and increased availability of shortwave radiation due to decrease in cloudiness.

Recent studies and field observations that have explored the retreating glaciers of Kilimanjaro, based on the physical understanding of glacier–climate interactions have shown that climatological processes other than air temperature, control the ice recession in a direct manner.

The general conclusion reached is that a drastic drop in atmospheric moisture at the end of the 19th century and the ensuing drier climatic conditions are likely forcing glacier retreat on Kilimanjaro.

These processes mimic those projected for the region under a changed human induced climate.

Other studies have shown that less conspicuous but ecologically far more significant is the associated increase of frequency and intensity of fires on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, which lead to a downward shift of the upper forest line by several hundred meters as a result of a drier (warmer) climate since the last century.

In contrast to common belief, global warming does not always cause upward migration of plants and animals. Here, it is shown that on Kilimanjaro the opposite trend is under way, with consequences more harmful than those due to the loss of the showy ice cap of Africa’s highest mountain.

The mountain has lost over 90 percent of the glacier by area in the last century, he said noting that as symbolic as this loss may be, it is unlikely that the melting of the glacier will have a significant effect on the hydrology of Kilimanjaro since only 2 small rivers originate from the melting glaciers.

The glaciers cover only one fifth of one percent of the forest area around the mountain, the source of more than 90 percent of the waters from Kilimanjaro.

The declining water flow has been caused and will continue due to factors affecting the forest and ecosystems on the slopes, most of which are related to human activities on land use such as deforestation, as well as on global climate change.

Although there is a school of thought that related the loss of glaciers and increased number of dried out river beds as indicators of long term climatic changes, the more mainstream view point out that dried out rivers in some areas are much more likely the result of forest destruction or of increasing water demands of the rapidly growing population.

Water diversion has more than quadrupled in certain areas during the last half century.

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