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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union

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The Cryosphere, 7, 419-431, 2013
© Author(s) 2013. This work is distributed
under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research Article
04 Mar 2013
A century of ice retreat on Kilimanjaro: the mapping reloaded
N. J. Cullen1, P. Sirguey2, T. Mölg3, G. Kaser4, M. Winkler4, and S. J. Fitzsimons1
1Department of Geography, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
2School of Surveying, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
3Chair of Climatology, Technische Universität Berlin, Germany
4Centre of Climate and Cryosphere, Institute of Meteorology and Geophysics, University of Innsbruck, Austria

Abstract. A new and consistent time series of glacier retreat on Kilimanjaro over the last century has been established by re-interpreting two historical maps and processing nine satellite images, which removes uncertainty about the location and extent of past and present ice bodies. Three-dimensional visualization techniques were used in conjunction with aerial and ground-based photography to facilitate the interpretation of ice boundaries over eight epochs between 1912 and 2011. The glaciers have retreated from their former extent of 11.40 km2 in 1912 to 1.76 km2 in 2011, which represents a total loss of about 85% of the ice cover over the last 100 yr. The total loss of ice cover is in broad agreement with previous estimates, but to further characterize the spatial and temporal variability of glacier retreat a cluster analysis using topographical information (elevation, slope and aspect) was performed to segment the ice cover as observed in 1912, which resulted in three glacier zones being identified. Linear extrapolation of the retreat in each of the three identified glacier assemblages implies the ice cover on the western slopes of Kilimanjaro will be gone before 2020, while the remaining ice bodies on the plateau and southern slopes will most likely disappear by 2040. It is highly unlikely that any body of ice will be present on Kilimanjaro after 2060 if present-day climatological conditions are maintained. Importantly, the geo-statistical approach developed in this study provides us with an additional tool to characterize the physical processes governing glacier retreat on Kilimanjaro. It remains clear that, to use glacier response to unravel past climatic conditions on Kilimanjaro, the transition from growth to decay of the plateau glaciers must be further resolved, in particular the mechanisms responsible for vertical cliff development.

Citation: Cullen, N. J., Sirguey, P., Mölg, T., Kaser, G., Winkler, M., and Fitzsimons, S. J.: A century of ice retreat on Kilimanjaro: the mapping reloaded, The Cryosphere, 7, 419-431, doi:10.5194/tc-7-419-2013, 2013.
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