Gore wrong on Kilimanjaro snow: Its the trees and "freezer burn"

From the “we told you so” department, more agreement that Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth movie poster child for global climate change has nothing to do with climate change at all, and everything to do with local effects of land use change. This results in less wind laden moisture (via evapotranspiration) to deposit on the mountain and increased sublimation aka “freezer burn”. What next? Wrapping Kili’s glacier like the Germans are doing? – Anthony

File:Mt. Kilimanjaro 12.2006.JPG

Mount Kilimanjaro in snowier times.

From IPP Media

Deforestation behind loss of Mt Kili snow

2008-08-14 11:00:04

By Correspondent Felister Peter

A scientific theory has linked the loss of snow on Mount Kilimanjaro to deforestation and dismissed suggestions that the dwindling of glaciers on Africa`s highest peak was due to global warming.

The theory is highlighted in a recent study report compiled by two researchers from Britain`s Portsmouth University, Nicholas Pepin and Martin Schaefer, who surveyed the mountain`s glaciers for 11 days.

The researchers, who revealed their findings at a news conference in Dar es Salaam yesterday, said the mountain`s glacier surface had shrunk from 20 km in 1880 to a mere two kilometres in 2000.

They said the development was caused more by local than regional factors, with Pepin suggesting that deforestation mainly due to extensive farming as the major cause.

“Deforestation of the mountain`s foothills is the most likely culprit because without forests there is too much evaporation of humidity into outer space.

The result is that moisture-laden winds blowing across those forests have become drier and drier,“ he explained.

“Loss of humidity automatically leads to a reduction in cloud cover. Clouds play a crucial role in protecting ice from sunrays, with fewer sunrays meaning faster freezing of water,“ he added, citing reduced precipitation as another reason for the receding ice cover on the mountain`s summit.

Last year, another study on the dwindling ice cover on the mountain`s cap suggested that global warming had nothing to do with the alarming loss of its beautiful snows.

The scientists who conducted the study, US-based Philip Mote and Georg Kaser, assertively linked the problem to a process known as sublimation.

Recent scientific literature on climate and glacier formation defines sublimation as a process that occurs at below-freezing temperatures and converts ice directly to water vapour with the liquid phase skipped.

Mote likened the process to moisture-sapping conditions that cause food to suffer freezer burn.

Revealing the findings they first published last year in the American Scientist magazine, the experts cautioned that using Mount Kilimanjaro as a “poster child“ for climate change was awfully inaccurate.

They said in the tropics, particularly on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, processes are at work that are worlds different from those that have diminished glacial ice in temperate regions closer to the poles.

The two experts wanted the world to ditch old assertions and believe that the ice loss on Mount Kilimanjaro was mainly due to sublimation, which calls for over eight times as much energy as does melting.

Like their British counterparts yesterday, the US-based scientists linked the icecap loss to a fall in precipitation caused by Indian Ocean “variability“.

In remarks at yesterday`s news conference, Journalists Environmental Association of Tanzania chairman Deo Mfugale also linked the loss of glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro to human activities rather than global warming.

He called for an end to the random felling trees and burning forests, mainly done for charcoal and timber, saying these and related practices led to the destruction of some 15 per cent of forests in Tanzania between 1976 and last year.

Kibo volcano is widely acknowledged as located at the highest point on Mount Kilimanjaro at about 5,895 metres (19,340 feet) above sea level.

According to a rough 1889 survey Kibo`s icecap occupied about 12.5 square miles but this had dwindled to about 7.5 square miles by 1912, to about 4.3 square miles by 1953, and just over 1.5 square miles by 2003.

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August 17, 2008 9:31 am

Gore wrong? Unbelievable. Let me ponder that.

August 17, 2008 10:14 am

With Phil Mote as the principle author, I am just a little skeptical. Mote was the author behind the scandalous cherry picking of Pacific NW snow pack data that was abused by the Oregon and Washington State governments to enact AGW legislation.
He also fired his number 2, the Assistant Washington State Climatologist Mark Albright, in 2007 for daring to privately (an email to fellow academics) raise doubts about Mote’s choice of 1950 for the beginning of his snowpack period of record and for blowing the whistle on attempts to silence him.
Perhaps he is trying to regain some credibility so his next alarmist article will be easier to publish.

August 17, 2008 11:15 am

If we had, for example, empowered Africa and its nations as soon as we realised they were comprised of humans in need (sometime after WW2) they would be using electricity to cook and warm themselves right now probably derived from their own bounty (for who really knows how much of anything is under their feet). But no, we would rather spend umpteen times as much waging war around the globe than helping our fellow man. We reap what we sow.
Aside from this, scientists see the wheels coming off and now is the time to put forward ideas apart from “CO2 is the devil’s work” – expect many more of these starting now.
I would love to know how many “climate related” degrees were handed out in the last 10 years. The blizzard of papers has just begun.
Mote, plank, btw.

Mike McMillan
August 17, 2008 11:16 am

Looking for ‘AIT’ and ‘OLS’ in the Glossary.

Mary Hinge
August 17, 2008 11:31 am

“……… there is too much evaporation of humidity into outer space.”
How can you take this story seriously with statments like this?

David Corcoran
August 17, 2008 11:34 am

Anthony, the embedded picture link is dead.

David Corcoran
August 17, 2008 11:39 am

Anthony, here’s a link to the same article, with the picture.

George Tobin
August 17, 2008 1:08 pm

Funny how long this particular falsehood is taking to die. You would have thought that the fact that the vast majority of melting occurred before the postwar rise in CO2 would have mattered when conjuring up that theory. The principle doomsayer (Lonnie Thompson of Ohio State, a former Vice Presidential science advisor) has got a lot of mileage out of this narrative. It does appear that in climate science, it pays to be ‘correct’ rather than right.

Leon Brozyna
August 17, 2008 1:54 pm

How appropriate that the main English language media outlet in Tanzania would be the one to carry such a story. {Perhaps that also accounts for that small language glitch of referring to evaporation into outer space.} Meanwhile, in the West, such factually based stories {of both studies} are studiously ignored.
Here’s a novel concept. Instead of Mr. Gore and his environmental cohorts telling us how to live, why don’t they demonstrate the power of their convictions by a massive tree planting program in the hundreds of sq. miles/kilometers surrounding Mt. Kilimanjaro. I’m sure the governments of Tanzania and Kenya would welcome such an investment in this major tourist attraction.
Silly me. The Lords and Ladies of Environmentalism have no interest in doing anything. So demeaning. They’re wanting just to put the low life serfs in their place and have them surrender such luxuries as cheap transportation, cheap electricity, running water, and fresh fruits and vegetables in the depths of winter.

Bill P
August 17, 2008 4:55 pm

Another article along these lines.
Lonnie Thompson’s research on the Kilimanjaro glacier, including cores, led him to the conclusion that most of the ice had formed in the last 11 or 12 thousand years, and that it was thus “asynchronous” with global warming since the last ice age. In other words, it formed as the rest of the northern hemisphere was warming in the holocene. See 2006 article:
The article shows Thompson on a week-long expedition with another climatologist, named Doug Hardy who contradicts Thompson’s global warming hypothesis. Hardy chalks up the dwindling glacier to shifting wind currents bringing moisture from the Indian Ocean. The gallery of pics is fascinating, including the bird’s-eye view of Kibo and interpretation of lost glacial terrain since 1912.

August 17, 2008 8:47 pm

More new knowledge:
“Climate scientists have generally assumed that the main effect of smoke on climate is cooling, as the floating particles can reflect some solar energy back to space as well as increasing cloud size and life span.
But this new research will apparently cause them to rethink soot’s role in shaping the Earth’s climate. An accurate model of the intricate relationship between clouds and aerosols has been a key missing piece in the picture of human-induced climate change.”

August 17, 2008 9:23 pm

Just a small correction Anthony. The decline IS due to climate change. A localized climate change due to deforestation. In biology we call it micro-climate.
Of course it is nothing to do with global climate change and nothing at all to do with AGW (which is theoretical and unproven).

August 18, 2008 2:06 am
Les Francis
August 18, 2008 3:16 am

Richard (21:23:22) :
Just a small correction Anthony. The decline IS due to climate change. A localized climate change due to deforestation. In biology we call it micro-climate.
Of course it is nothing to do with global climate change and nothing at all to do with AGW (which is theoretical and unproven).
Correct. I believe that Anthony all along has been pushing the “Land Use” scenario.
It cannot be denied that the clearing of tropical rainforests in Asia, Africa and South America has contributed to localised “climate change”. (micro-climate).
How much does this equatorial massive tropical land clearing influence more Northerly or Southerly climes?

August 18, 2008 5:23 am

“Here’s a novel concept. Instead of Mr. Gore and his environmental cohorts telling us how to live, ”
Here’s another novel concept. Why don’t Mr. Gore and his cohorts start living the lifestyle they are telling the rest of us to live?

Evan Jones
August 18, 2008 7:20 am

You still see the old story popping up every now and then as dramatic proof of AGW. (It was one of the first of the inconvenient truths to be debunked.)

August 18, 2008 8:51 am

Mary beat me to it. Well played.

August 18, 2008 10:22 am

The wheels are already coming off of the GoreMobile and there will be a great deal of egg on the faces of many. Yet very little will be learned except that the human penchant for a ‘good story’ and its consequent hysteria may forever be with us. May we not do too much damage before we’re off to engage in another morality play.

August 18, 2008 12:52 pm

“The snows of Kilimanjaro”,
we were scair’t they’d go away.
Turn’s out it was some cut down trees
and not what Al G. saaid?

Pamela Gray
August 18, 2008 12:56 pm

By the way, January 2008 saw a bunch of snow dumped on that big ol’ piece of dirt. Climbers at the time wrote that it was beginning to look like the pile of dirt from old. And it stayed snowy till summer. With summer coming to a close, the mountain is forcasted to be snowy for the next three days.

August 19, 2008 2:27 am

This is more confirmation that deforestation is a huge issue due to its first-order effects as well as its second-order effects on CO2 (to whatever extent you believe that matters).
Leon: I for one would certainly support protection of existing forests and a reforestation programme. Remember that there are plenty of “environmentalists” around the world still doing things the old-fashioned way. If some “carbon credits” flow in that direction to fund them, that would be fine by me.

Alan Chappell
August 19, 2008 4:28 am

The Driver,
by the tone of your comment you have never been to Africa. Having worked as an Engineer in Africa (9 years, 6 countries ) I can assure you that the only reason that there is any ice on top of the mountain is that it has no commercial value.

John McDonald
August 19, 2008 8:30 am

The whole morphing of the Global Warming Alarmism position into the much more defendable term of Climate Change is on-going and will save the reputation and funding of so many former AGW professors. It like to see a trend line on the number of Google hits on Global Warming vs. Climate Change vs. time.
I predict in 10 years that AGWs will be history and another underfunded ACCC (Anthropomorphic Climate Change Crisis) will be underway.

August 19, 2008 11:45 am

Calm down, Anthony.I just thought the phrase was odd. Your explanation makes sense and I have no problem accepting this study at all, though I haven’t looked closely at it.
Of course glaciers around the globe are shrinking due to global warming. I’m sure you have no problem accepting those studies.

retired engineer
August 19, 2008 12:53 pm

Boris: Of course glaciers (well, most of them) are shrinking due to global warming. The question is why is the globe warming? Is it due to natural forces and cycles, or human activity? People’s actions affect the climate, certainly locally, perhaps globally. By how much? 50%, 3%, 0.1%? That’s the debate.
The Sahara used to have a lot of trees (500+ years ago). The sand has spread south slowly ever since. Hard to blame that on SUV’s.
Change is inevitable. You can deny it, ignore it, rail against it, or live with it.

Bill P
August 19, 2008 2:42 pm

I thought this thread had petered out. I hope a personal reflection doesn’t drive a stake through it.
Kilimanjaro is a fascinating place for reasons Allen Chapell and many other readers have pointed out. Herald Lange’s book, “Kilimanjaro, the White Roof of Africa” (1985), makes several relevant points:
It’s the largest free-standing massif in the world, and as such “makes” its own climate. Climbers from the base (savannah) pass upward through several different climate zones to reach the crater rim. Each of these “zones” is classified, in part, by the amount of moisture which reaches it: the savannah gets about 750-1000 mm of water per year; the shrub and cultivated zones (expedition porters and guides are drawn from the Chagga people there), gets about 1,000 to 1700 mm annually; montane rain forest (cloud forest) receives between 2,000 and 3,000 mm annually; alpine zones get 600 – 1,000 mm; and the summit, in near-arctic “cold desert” conditions, receives less than 100 mm. So the montane rainforest is noticeably wet, and wett-est.
I climbed it twenty years ago, in the summer, following a route on its east side. The forest at the level of human occupation (the Tanzanian government prevents people from living above about 5,000 feet) is what I would call jungle. It takes a few days of hiking to pass through this zone, and one emerges from the rain forest into the alpine zone to see a spectacular disk of clouds spreading around the mountain beneath you, at about 9,000 feet. This could only be generated by the warm, humid air rising off the forests and moist soil on the flanks of the mountain.
Below the cloud disk is an almost self-contained forest belt containing colobus monkeys, cape buffalo, eland, leopards, fig trees and other strange life. That life stays, for the most part, below the clouds, which makes scientists all the more puzzled at the not-uncommon discovery of antelope, monkey and other animal carcasses near the summit.
I can guess what the stripping of those mountain flanks for firewood and for cultivable space would do to that disk of cloud. The article refers to the loss of more than 50 square miles of mountain forest in the last 30 years. This is a perfect example of a unique microclimate. And it is an environmental crisis of sorts for the people who live there. If it is a “man-made” crisis, it wasn’t made by outsiders or by tourists, but by the people who live there.

Bill P
August 19, 2008 8:12 pm

Correction: Alan Chappell – sorry for mangling your name.

August 20, 2008 8:56 pm

Thanks for post this one Tony! The loss of arboreal microclimate precipitation and sublimation has been noted since at least 2003 / 2004 as likely causes of Kilimanjaro’s glacial recession, but Gore paid that no mind in his 2006 movie An Inconvenient Truth.
It gets better: James Hansen, the main consulting scientist for Gore’s movie, coauthored a 2003 paper on soot deposition on tropical glacial packs REPLETE with the NASA web page showing a series of pictures of Kilimanjaro’s progressive glacial recession.
Now riddle me this: How is it that Gore could get such a fundamental fact so wrong when extant research contraindicated using Kilimanjaro as an AGW poster child? Gore claimed to have had his facts vetted. By whom? James Hansen? If so, then just this one gaffe would serve to discredit both Gore & Hansen for playing so loose with science.
see also:

August 21, 2008 3:37 am

Leon Broznya:
The Lords and Ladies of Environmentalism have no interest in doing anything.
This is one of my gripes. If they want to do something about any potential risk posed by human-driven global warming, they needn’t risk burning out the public with a fear campaign. The most productive use of Al Gore’s $300 million campaign money would be investing in energy efficient technologies like FloDesign’s new wind turbine concept, or Cree’s new LED lightbulb, or Luxim’s new plasma incandescent, or NanoSolar’s new gigawatt-scale PV production facilities, or Rotartica’s solar-powered HVAC for home use … all of these are technologies already available and needing capital for further marketing and improved manufacturing process.
Or if they want to getting more cutting-edge, there’s thorium nuclear power, or superconducting power grid capacity, or ocean current turbines, and (drum role please) the all-time energy super-techs of the next 50 years: Infrared Photovoltaics & He3 fusion.
Solve these last two problems and we’re home free.

November 11, 2008 9:34 am

[…] your bets now on if there will be mentions of these key words which actually are relevant to the true Kiliminjaro story: evapotranspiration, deforestation, […]

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