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Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Jul 30, 2017
A melting glacier yields a bomber.

One of the reasons I wanted to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro was to see the glaciers before they were completely gone. It’s an amazing site to stand on an area near the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro as the sun is rising and watch the small, remaining glaciers turn pink. It was breathtaking, to say the least.

The glaciers here are affected by global warming, of course, but there are other reasons, as well. The rain used to blow into the little villages below the mountain, hit the mountain and dump lots of water that the villagers welcomed. The clouds would then rise and drop snow on the top of the mountain that would add to the depth of the glaciers.

But then, the villagers chopped down all of the trees that used to “hold” the clouds in place. Now the clouds don’t deliver water to the villages anymore, and they don’t float above to drop snow on the mountain. The villagers rely on the melting glaciers for water, but soon that water will dry up, and the villagers will have to relocate.

WW1 Soldier in Italy

Not only will the villagers have to leave, but without a supply of water, many of the indigenous plants and those that are endangered will die. The animals will have to migrate away from the mountain. Kilimanjaro could become an area of desolation instead of exceptional beauty.

In Kilimanjaro’s case, it is not only the actions of the villagers that caused problems. There is one more issue that is causing the glaciers to melt at an alarming rate.

If you touch the ground high up on Stella Point – this is the saddle of the mountain before you reach the summit – the dirt is warm. This area is close to the crater of the volcano that formed Kilimanjaro. When I enquired about this phenomenon, I was told the magma is somewhat close to the surface. So the glaciers are also melting from underneath.

Glaciers are melting all over the world. One of the interesting things about this is that we are discovering things we never knew before. It is an exciting time to be alive, at the end of this last ice age. Who knows what treasures we might find and what mysteries of the earth might be uncovered?

1700-year-old leather straps and shoes

Two bodies of Swiss farmers who were lost in the glaciers were found entombed in the ice. The mystery of their disappearance was solved. Apparently they went out to milk their cows and never came back. This was 75 years ago.

But there are many more ancient findings as we get glimpses of what life was like as the last ice age came into being.

One of the most exciting finds in our recent history was Otzi the Iceman, who died 3,300 years ago and was discovered by hikers in the Otzal Alps. Otzi died in an altercation with other humans, but he also had health problems that might have contributed to his death. His corpse is perhaps one of the best preserved from this era. Scientists are still studying Otzi, and he might continue to contribute to our understanding of early mankind.

George Mallory was lost on Mr. Everest in 1924. He may have been the first man to reach the summit of this great mountain, but he disappeared and was last seen close to the summit. There is no proof he actually reached the summit. In later years, Edmund Hillary and Tensang Norgay reached the summit and proved to the world it could be done.

In 1999, the body of George Mallory was found, perfectly preserved with his name tag and handwritten notes in his pocket. He had a severely fractured leg. Did he fall during his ascent or his descent? No one knows. There are supporters on each side of the argument. Perhaps we will know more as the ice continues to melt.

Lost airplane

In World War II, a warplane crashed on a glacier in Iceland. The plane, the crew and all of the supplies on the plane disappeared. It wasn’t until 1995 that pieces of the plane emerged from the glacier. In subsequent years, a pilot’s watch has been found, as well as a toothbrush, and tins of corned beef appeared as the ice melted. In 2004, the crew members were found. Perhaps the glacier will continue to give us more surprises in the future.

Many other shocking surprises have shown up around the world as the ice melts. We’ve found a perfectly preserved baby woolly mammoth, a field of dead reindeer that died of anthrax, and then last year, infected people in Russia, and in Alaska, an Air Force plane that disappeared was finally found in the Colony Glacier. It had crashed in 1952, killing everyone on board. Thirty-one of the 52 men who died have been recovered. As the glacier continues to melt, it is hoped the remainder will be found.

Glaciers are also yielding fossils of species we’ve never seen

It is no secret that global warming exists. But this is not the first time. The Earth has gone through several ice ages and warming periods. It’s nothing new. Yes, perhaps we humans with our created waste and consumer habits have hastened it this time, but Mother Earth will correct these issues, you can be sure. Mother Earth is extremely good at taking things back.

Personally, I am looking forward to learning even more as the glaciers recede and the permafrost melts. There is so much world history, natural history and science we will be able to recover and record. Perhaps we’ll be able to solve some of the mysteries that haunt us.

It’s a new world out there.

 

 

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.

 

Ice Age tools

Stone Age knife

1700-year-old tunic

Calving Glacier

Comment On This Story
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1 Comment

  1. Dave Rickmers says:

    There are no silver linings in human induced
    atmospheric warming. Our species is going
    down. Get a comfortable seat and behold the
    spectacle.

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