'The Dusty Rocks of Kilimanjaro' Just Doesn't Have the Same Ring

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The sun sets over Mawenzi Peak on Mt. Kilimanjaro

Let's hope Ernest Hemingway, wherever he is, has a nice stiff drink — he's going to need one when he hears this news: The celebrated snows that drape the heights of Mount Kilimanjaro are melting at an alarming pace. According to researcher Lonnie Thompson, global warming is gradually erasing the blinding white cover, leaving instead a dull patina of rock. "The ice will be gone by 2015 or so," Thompson told the Associated Press.

Thompson, operating out of the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University, found that 82 percent of Kilimanjaro's icecap melted between 1912 and 2000. He also found that the rate of disintegration may be speeding up; Thompson's measurements show one spot on the mountain's icecap lost roughly a yard of thickness since last February.

Kilimanjaro, which towers 19,340 feet above Tanzania's tropical rain forest, holds a special romance and mystery for countless tourists and writers — and its relatively easy grade allows thousands of visitors each year to experience the unique ascent from its equatorial base to its snow-covered zenith.

Scientists blame the slow disappearance on a combination of natural and man-made factors; ice caps have ebbed and flowed since long before human existence, but recent dramatic increases in greenhouse gases have, scientists fear, irreparably altered the climate and doomed the snowcaps atop many of the world's tallest peaks, including those in Peru and Tibet.

Thompson presented his grim findings at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science — after which more than a few hard-core scientists were quoted describing Thompson's highly technical report as, simply, "depressing."