Kilimanjaro's ice may disappear by 2033

DAR ES SALAAM Mon Nov 2, 2009 3:05pm EST

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DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - The ice on Africa's highest mountain could vanish in 13 to 24 years, a fate also awaiting the continent's other glaciers, a study said Monday.

U.S.-based researchers Lonnie Thompson and colleagues said glaciers on Kilimanjaro, Tanzania's snow-capped volcano which attracts 40,000 visitors a year, could disappear.

"There is a strong likelihood that the ice fields will disappear within a decade or two if current conditions persist," said the study, published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal.

The research blames warmer temperatures due to climate change and drier, less cloudy conditions than in the past.

"The climatological conditions currently driving the loss of Kilimanjaro's ice fields are clearly unique within an 11,700-year perspective," said the study, adding that the mountain lost 26 percent of its ice cover between 2000 and 2007.

At 5,896 meters high, Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the east African country's top tourism draws, offering tourists a taste of the tropical and the glacial within a five-day climb.

It brings in an estimated $50 million a year. Tourism is the leading foreign exchange earner in the poor country, earning $1.22 billion in 2008.

"The loss of the ice fields will have a negative impact on tourism in tropical east Africa," said Thompson in an email to Reuters.

Home to elephant, leopard and buffalo, as well as expansive views of the Rift Valley, the mountain known as "the roof of Africa" was first scaled by a European, Hans Meyer, 120 years ago. While its Kibo peak rises above the clouds, it can be reached with little more than a walking stick and some puff.

"The loss of the glaciers is an indicator of climate change under way in this region which impacts not only the glaciers on the summit but the weather patterns that bring rainfall to the lower slopes," said Thompson.

(Editing by David Clarke)

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