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Hydrological and climatological change associated with glacial recession in the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda

Taylor, RG; Russell, J; Eggermont, H; Mileham, L; Tindimugaya, C; Verscheuren, D; Todd, M; (2008) Hydrological and climatological change associated with glacial recession in the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda. (ECRC Research Report 128 ). UCL Environmental Change Research Centre: London, UK. Green open access

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Abstract

The areal extent of tropical icefields in the Rwenzori Mountains of East Africa has reduced steadily over the last century from 7.5 km^{2} 2 in 1906 to <1 km^{2} in 2003. Considerable debate persists regarding the impact of deglaciation on alpine riverflow and changes in climate driving glacial recession in the East African Highlands. Recent field surveys combined with historical observations reveal continued, rapid retreat in the terminal positions of valley glaciers (Speke, Elena). Observed acceleration in the rate of termini retreat since the 1960s is shown to arise, in part, from the morphologies of the glaciers and the beds within which those glaciers reside. Historical data combined with the first measurements of alpine riverflow in the Rwenzori Mountains show that the contribution of meltwater flows from dwindling icefields to alpine riverflow is negligible, contributing <0.5% of the mean annual river discharge recorded at the base of the mountains. Preliminary high-frequency monitoring of air temperature and humidity in the vicinity of icefields on the Rwenzori Mountains indicates that elevated daily maximum air temperatures coincide with episodic reductions in relative humidity and increased meltwater fluxes observed during the dry season. A sustained reduction in humidity to account for observed deglaciation is not evident from records of lowland precipitation, humidity or river discharge. Lakelevel records in East Africa are also inconsistent with a sudden decrease in regional humidity around 1880AD that is proposed to have triggered deglaciation in the East African Highlands. Water levels in the lakes proximate to the icefields of Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro are rising in the late 19th century when glaciers on these mountains are observed to be in retreat. Lake levels do not, furthermore, indicate that enhanced humidity over the 19th century prior to 1880AD relative to the 20th century. Evidence of warming over the latter half of the 20th century and an earlier onset of deglaciation (~1870AD) from meteorological and palaeolimnological data suggest that the timing and drivers of deglaciation in the Rwenzori Mountains are consistent with the recession of alpine icefields elsewhere in the tropics.

Type: Report
Title: Hydrological and climatological change associated with glacial recession in the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Publisher version: https://www.geog.ucl.ac.uk/research/research-centr...
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Geography
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10112974
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