Race to Map Africa’s Forgotten Glaciers Before They Melt Away

A team of scientists and photographers aims to document the Earth’s threatened and fading glaciers.

abby chicken photography/Flickr

Ptolemy thought they were the source of the Nile and called them the Mountains of the Moon because of the perpetual mists that covered them; Stanley claimed to be the first non-African to see their icecap; and the many thousands of subsistence farmers who today live on the slopes of the fabled Rwenzori mountains in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo fear that warming temperatures are devastating their harvests.

While 20,000 people a year scale Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, just a handful of trekkers tackle the lower, 5,100m Rwenzori summits and witness the spectacular plant forms that grow in some of the wettest conditions on Earth. The result is that little is known about the condition of the many tropical glaciers that descend off the three peaks of mounts Baker, Speke and Africa’s third highest peak, Mount Stanley.

But last month, a micro-expedition led by London-based Danish photographer Klaus Thymann returned from Uganda with the best evidence yet that the 43 glaciers found and named in 1906 are still mostly there, but are in dire condition and can be expected to disappear in a decade or two.

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The Climate Desk is a journalistic collaboration dedicated to exploring the impact—human, environmental, economic, political—of a changing climate. The partners are The Atlantic, Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Mother Jones, Slate, and Wired.