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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Just melting away: Vanishing ice warning for Africa's Alps







Mountain climbers head to the top of Mount Stanley at the Rwenzori mountain range on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo on March 8, 2014. Photo - AFP

In swirling snow, John Medenge prods a thin ice bridge over a crevasse with an iron-tipped spear, guiding climbers scaling the steep glacial wall using crampons and axes.

"We are the last few who will climb on the ice, it is going so fast," said Medenge, after scaling the treacherous ridge up Mount Stanley, part of the dramatic Rwenzori mountain range straddling the border between Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo.

At 5,109 metres (16,763 feet), Stanley's jagged peak is the third highest mountain in Africa, topped only by Mount Kenya and Tanzania's iconic Kilimanjaro.

But experts warn the ice is melting at "disturbing" rates, and that within two decades Africa's equatorial peaks will be bare rock, impacting agriculture and tourism.

"Every year the ice grows smaller," 54-year old Medenge added, who has been climbing the range since a teenager.

Ancient Greek geographer Ptolemy in Alexandria wrote of the snow-capped Rwenzoris around the second century AD, dubbing the mysterious peaks the "Mountains of the Moon", and identifying them as a source of the mighty White Nile.

'Canary in the mine'
But after centuries of wonder at the spectacle of snow on the equator, the ice is vanishing, bringing with it multiple challenges.

"The melting glaciers are another warning sign, a 'canary in the mine' of mankind's inability to contain climate change and its negative consequences," said Luc Hardy of Pax Arctica, an organisation that promotes awareness of the impact of climate change, and who led an expedition in January to the mountains.

"The melting of this unique African glacier is a major threat to local communities, with the obvious loss of sustainable water supplies," said Hardy, a French-American explorer and a vice-president of the environmental Green Cross group.

Reduced glacial river flows are already impacting agricultural production and cutting the output of hydroelectric power plants, said Richard Atugonza, from the Mountain Resource Centre at Uganda's Makere University.

http://news.yahoo.com/vanishing-ice-warning-africas-alps-044628206.html

http://www.timesofoman.com/Features/Article-557.aspx

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