The Smoke of Kilimanjaro: Effects of smoke particles on Kilimanjaro are focus of NASA study at UAHuntsville
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (March 16, 2011) -- Particles of soot and smoke from and-clearing fires may be changing weather patterns (and the ice and snow cover) on Mount Kilimanjaro.
A new research project at The University of Alabama in Huntsville will attempt to understand the effects that small airborne particles called
aerosols are having on the mountain's climate.
"These aerosols definitely have the potential to impact precipitation," said Dr. Udaysankar Nair, a research scientist in UAHuntsville's Earth System Science Center and the project's principal investigator. "The aerosols we are studying absorb energy and heat the air around them. Prior work has shown that if you alter heating in the air where these aerosols are found, you could change the stability of the atmosphere."
Warming that layer of the atmosphere might make it more stable and less prone to form the clouds needed for precipitation.
Supported by a $561,000, three-year grant from NASA's Earth Science Directorate, Nair, a graduate student and Dr. Sundar Christopher, chair of UAHuntsville's Atmospheric Science Department, will use satellite data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer instruments on two NASA satellites to locate fires used to clear land for farming in a 250,000-square-kilometer area around Kilimanjaro.
They will use that and other data to calculate the amount of soot and smoke aerosols in the atmosphere around the mountain, then use that information in regional climate simulations to model how the particles might be changing temperature, snowfall and other precipitation on Kilimanjaro.
"There is quite a lot of biomass burning in that area, perhaps enough to change the regional scale climate," said Nair.
The current glaciers of Kilimanjaro, made famous by an Ernest Hemingway short story in 1936 and a movie released in 1952, are almost 12,000 years old. At their maximum, about 16,000 years ago during the most recent ice age, Kilimanjaro's glaciers covered up to 150 square kilometers and reached from the summit (19,298 feet above sea level) to the surrounding plain more than 9,000 feet below.
A tiny fraction of that ice cap still exists. Surveys in the 1880s estimated that glaciers covered about 20 square kilometers on the mountain. From 1912 to now, the glacier area on Kilimanjaro has decreased from about 12 square kilometers to less than two.
Nair, Christopher and UAHuntsville doctoral student Jonathan Fairman, a NASA Earth system science fellow, are completing a study of the effects that regional deforestation might be having on weather patterns on the mountain.