Mount Kilimanjaro Glaciers: A Vanishing Beauty
Mount Kilimanjaro Glaciers

Mount Kilimanjaro, the majestic peak in Tanzania, is not only renowned for its breathtaking vistas and diverse ecosystems but also for its iconic glaciers. These magnificent ice formations have captivated explorers and scientists for centuries, but sadly, they are rapidly disappearing due to the effects of climate change.

At first sight, Kilimanjaro’s glaciers may appear as mere piles of monotonous ice, but beneath their seemingly static surface lies a wealth of significance. These gleaming blue-white ice formations not only hold clues to climatic history but also serve as potential indicators of impending natural disasters. Despite the ongoing process of melting, Kilimanjaro’s glaciers have managed to persist. So, why haven’t they completely melted away?

These glittering blue-white ice temples are active archives of climatic history. They might also be a foreshadowing of an approaching natural calamity.
With the very hot equatorial sun, you’d assume glaciers wouldn’t occur on Kilimanjaro at all. In reality, the ice’s beautiful white color is what permits it to live. Because ice really reflects the majority of the heat.

The glacier’s base of dull black lava rock, on the other hand, absorbs heat.

While the sun’s rays have no effect on the glacier’s surface, the heat created by the sun-baked rocks beneath causes glacial melting.

As a result, Kilimanjaro’s glaciers are naturally unstable. The glacier’s ‘grip’ on the rocks is lost when the ice at the glacier’s base melts. As a result, ‘overhangs’ form when the ice at the base has melted, leaving just the ice on top. The ice splits and breaks away as the process proceeds. This exposes more of the rock to sunlight… So the process starts all over again.

The sun’s action on glaciers is also responsible for remarkable constructions like ice columns and pillars, towers, and cathedrals.

These characteristics are possibly the most remarkable aspect of Kibo’s higher slopes.

One might assume that after 11,700 years of melting, very little ice would remain on Kilimanjaro. The glaciers we see today began forming around 9700 BC, according to recent research. The reason they have survived is attributed to the prolonged periods of “cold snaps” or ice ages that have occurred throughout history. During these colder phases, the glaciers have had the opportunity to regenerate and reclaim their place on the mountain.

Estimates suggest that there have been at least eight of these ice ages. The most recent one occurred in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, albeit a relatively minor one. It was a time when the River Thames frequently froze over, and winters were harsh. During this period, the ice on Kilimanjaro extended down to the tree line, with both Mawenzi and Kibo being covered by ice.

On the other hand, prior to 9700 BC, there were periods when Kilimanjaro was completely devoid of ice, lasting potentially up to twenty thousand years.

The Impact of Global Warming

As our planet experiences the effects of global warming, the glaciers on Kilimanjaro are inevitably being affected. The consequences of this warming are a subject we cover in detail on our Climate Change and Kilimanjaro page. However, the future of the glaciers remains uncertain, and experts have made varying predictions, offering both hopeful and concerning outlooks.

  • Some experts suggest that the glaciers may disappear entirely within the next few decades if current warming trends continue unchecked. This grim forecast emphasizes the urgency of taking action to combat climate change.
  • However, other researchers propose that the glaciers may endure for a longer period, albeit reduced in size. They argue that factors such as localized climate patterns and the unique topography of Kilimanjaro could potentially contribute to the preservation of some ice formations.

The ongoing debate and scientific analysis highlight the complexity of the situation and the need for further research to better understand the fate of Kilimanjaro’s glaciers.

While the glaciers’ future hangs in the balance, they continue to serve as a stark reminder of the consequences of climate change. Their existence offers a glimpse into our planet’s history and the intricate relationship between nature and human activities. It is a call to action, urging us to prioritize sustainable practices and work towards mitigating the impacts of global warming.

The Glaciers of Mount Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro is home to several glaciers that adorn its upper slopes. They are remnants of a much larger ice cap that covered the mountain during the last ice age. The largest and most well-known glaciers include the Northern Icefield, Southern Icefield, Furtwängler Glacier, and Eastern Icefield. These glaciers have been part of the mountain’s allure, attracting climbers and nature enthusiasts from around the globe.

The glaciers of Mount Kilimanjaro, located in Tanzania, are a remarkable feature of this iconic mountain. While their numbers have been dwindling due to climate change, here is a list of the main glaciers that have adorned the slopes of Kilimanjaro:

  1. Northern Icefield: The Northern Icefield is one of the largest ice formations on Mount Kilimanjaro. It encompasses several individual glaciers, including the Credner Glacier, Heim Glacier, and Decken Glacier. The Northern Icefield has experienced significant retreat in recent years.
  2. Southern Icefield: The Southern Icefield, also known as the Southern Glacier, is another prominent ice formation on the mountain. It consists of several glaciers, including the Great Barranco Glacier, Kersten Glacier, and Ratzel Glacier. Like the other glaciers on Kilimanjaro, the Southern Icefield has been shrinking rapidly.
  3. Furtwängler Glacier: The Furtwängler Glacier is located on the eastern side of Mount Kilimanjaro. It was named after the German geologist and glaciologist Walter Furtwängler. While once a notable feature, this glacier has considerably receded in recent decades.
  4. Eastern Icefield: The Eastern Icefield is situated on the northeastern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. It comprises several smaller glaciers, such as the Drygalski Glacier, Hans Meyer Glacier, and the Kersten Glacier. The Eastern Icefield has also experienced significant melting and reduction in size.

These glaciers have played a significant role in shaping the landscape and hydrology of Mount Kilimanjaro. Sadly, their retreat is an alarming reminder of the impacts of climate change on our planet’s delicate ecosystems.

Kilimanjaro glaciers are melting.

According to National Geographic, Mount Kilimanjaro’s glaciers might vanish as soon as 2030. Some more optimistic experts predict that the Furtwängler Glacier will be extinct by 2060; yet, these timeframes are still well within many readers’ lives.

Unfortunately, the disintegration of the Furtwängler Glacier and other tropical glaciers on Kilimanjaro is too far along to be delayed or reversed. The impact of global warming on places such as Tanzania and key locations such as Africa’s biggest mountain cannot be overstated.

Why have Kilimanjaro’s glaciers not melted away?

One would think that after 11,700 years of melting, very little ice would remain on Kilimanjaro. (How come 11,700 years? According to recent study, the existing glaciers formed around 9700BC.) The existence of glaciers is owing to the extended periods of ‘cold snaps’, or ice ages, that have occurred over the past. Of course, this allows the glaciers to reassemble and reemerge on the mountain.

There have been at least eight of these ice ages, according to estimations. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the last was a small one. The Thames regularly froze over, and the winters were harsh.

The ice on Kilimanjaro would have extended straight down to the tree line at these periods. Mawenzi and Kibo would have been traversed at this point.

At the other end of the spectrum, prior to 9700BC, Kilimanjaro was totally free of ice, maybe for up to 20,000 years.

Glaciers are estimated to be 11,700 years old.

According to research in Kilimanjaro’s Northern Ice Field, the glaciers are about 11,700 years old. However, certain places that are exposed to weather and sunshine and have most likely seen melting and refreezing are thought to be 800 years old.

Furtwangler Glacier is quickly receding:

113,000 square metres (1,220,000 square feet) in 1976
11,000 square metres (120,000 square feet) in 2000

Kilimanjaro’s ice cover has been mapped since the early 1900s. It has been calculated that more than 80% of the ice cover on Kilimanjaro has already vanished since 1912. By 2011, an estimated 85% of the Furtwangler Glacier had gone.
Rapid climatic change in the twentieth century is directly responsible for the increasing pace of glacier loss, or sublimation, on Kilimanjaro.

Kilimanjaro glaciers are expected to disappear completely between 2030 and 2060.

Mount Kilimanjaro’s top rises 5,895 meters above sea level. Climbers who reach the top will be able to see Kilimanjaro’s glaciers and icefields. Some of these glaciers are protected by the northern and southern icefields.

Unfortunately, as the snow on Kilimanjaro has melted, the icefields have been increasingly exposed, resulting in accelerated melting of the glaciers and icefields over time.

Photos of glaciers and icefields taken even ten years ago show dramatic indications of ice loss. Climbers are encouraged to capture and share images so that Altezza Travel can do our part in informing the world about the consequences of climate change on Africa’s tallest peak.

Among the most noteworthy tropical glaciers on Kilimanjaro are:

Furtwängler Glacier

  • Kilimanjaro’s largest glacier
  • Extinction date: 2030
  • Named after Walter Furtwängler, one of the first climbers to reach the top of Kilimanjaro in 1912.

Rebmann Glacier

  • Found near the Southern Icefield –
  • It was named after Johann Rebmann, a German missionary explorer who was the first European to record glaciers on Kilimanjaro in 1848.

The Credner Glacier

  • It is situated near the Northern Icefield.
  • One of Kilimanjaro’s greatest surviving glaciers, although it is gradually melting. Extinction is expected by 2030, according to research performed in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institute.

The Arrow Glacier

  • The Arrow Glacier is the renamed remnant of Kilimanjaro’s previous ‘Little Barranco Glacier’ situated along the Lemosho Route.
  • This little remnant fragment of the glacier is rapidly melting and may have disappeared by the time this article is published. This is the tragic and irreversible fact of global warming. There is no way to restore a glacier once it has fully vanished.

The disappearance of Kilimanjaro’s glaciers is a sad but unavoidable reality. Climate change has had no effect on these ice structures, which have endured for an estimated 11,700 years.

We cannot halt the melting of these tropical glaciers, but we can learn from this predicament to care for our world and pick sustainable, responsible solutions.

We want our clients to experience Tanzania’s tallest peak, biggest National Parks, and unsurpassed natural beauty. We encourage anyone who is able to climb Kilimanjaro before the icefields and glaciers disappear and to share our tale with others.

Alarming Retreat

In recent decades, the glaciers of Mount Kilimanjaro have been rapidly retreating. Studies and satellite imagery have revealed a startling decline in their size and volume. The causes of this retreat are multifaceted, with climate change being the primary factor. Rising temperatures have led to increased melting rates, and the reduced snowfall has further exacerbated the loss of ice. It is estimated that the glaciers have lost over 80% of their area since the early 20th century, and if current trends continue, they may disappear entirely within a few decades.

Environmental Implications

The disappearance of the glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro has far-reaching environmental implications. The ice formations act as a crucial source of freshwater for the surrounding ecosystems, supplying streams, rivers, and springs. As the glaciers shrink, the availability of water decreases, impacting local flora, fauna, and communities that rely on these resources. Changes in water availability can disrupt ecosystems, reduce biodiversity, and pose challenges to agricultural activities and human settlements in the region.

Scientific Research and Monitoring Efforts

Scientists and researchers have been closely monitoring the glaciers of Mount Kilimanjaro to better understand the factors driving their retreat and the consequences for the surrounding environment. Studies have focused on collecting data on ice thickness, melt rates, and climate patterns to assess the long-term effects. Ongoing research provides valuable insights into the impact of climate change on high-altitude ecosystems and helps raise awareness about the urgency of mitigating its effects.

Climate Change and Global Significance

The dwindling glaciers of Mount Kilimanjaro symbolize the broader issue of climate change and its impact on vulnerable ecosystems worldwide. Their retreat serves as a visible indicator of the warming temperatures and serves as a call to action for addressing this global crisis. Mount Kilimanjaro, once a symbol of eternal ice and snow, now represents the fragility of our planet’s delicate balance and the urgent need for sustainable practices to preserve our natural wonders.

The Future of Mount Kilimanjaro Glaciers

While the future of the glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro may seem uncertain, efforts are underway to mitigate the effects of climate change and protect these natural wonders. International collaborations, conservation organizations, and local initiatives are working together to raise awareness, implement sustainable practices, and reduce carbon emissions. These efforts aim to slow down the retreat of the glaciers and preserve the ecological integrity of Mount Kilimanjaro for future generations.

Mount Kilimanjaro’s glaciers are an integral part of its identity and allure. Their gradual disappearance underscores the pressing need to address climate change and protect our planet’s fragile ecosystems. As we strive for a more sustainable future, let us remember the vanishing beauty of Mount Kilimanjaro’s glaciers and work towards preserving the wonders of nature for generations to come.

Related: The vanishing glaciers of Mount Kenya


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Jul 1, 2023
Impressive article on Mountain Kilimanjaro. It reminds me my successful climb to Uhuru peak in 1999 through Machame route. A 5 day trek was full of natural beauties, iconic landscape, flora, fauna and personal satisfaction.
Jul 8, 2023
That is great to hear. Machame route is very scenic to be honest.
John Parit
Jul 2, 2023
Very interesting and informative post. I live just few miles down on the Kenyan side!
Jul 4, 2023
Awesome, thanks for sharing.
Jul 2, 2023
I have original photos of mount Kilimanjaro taken in the 1940's by Arthur firmin
Jul 3, 2023
Can you share it with us? we would love to see them. Check us out on Instagram (Tranquiil kilimanjaro) or email:
Jul 7, 2023
Share with us please
Jul 4, 2023
I am not a scientist. I was born on the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro nearly 73 years ago and have been witness to many changes not only of the shrinking icecap but also of disappearing tree and plant species, shrinking and drying up streams, unchecked soil erossion, invassion of warmer climate and unwelcome insects like mosquitos, etc. In short there is so much noticeable adverse change which the government is either unable to adress or just does not care about. Had more efforts been taken to preserve the natural habitat I believe our dying Kilimanjaro in her natural state and beauty would have been made to last for centuries more. Uncaring officials are now even planning to make more money by increasing tours to the summit by cable. Cry aloud for our dying mother Kilimanjaro!!
Jul 4, 2023
Very true.
Dladla Thula
Aug 29, 2023
The most beautiful natural place to visit. I went as far as Stella Point in December 2022. I went through the Machame Route. Please share the pictures of the 1940's

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