CLIMBS AFRICA’S HIGHEST PEAK TO SOLVE THE MYSTERIES OF
ITS VOLCANIC DESTINY AND DISAPPEARING GLACIERS
VOLCANO ABOVE THE CLOUDS
Tuesday, November 25, 2003, at 8PM ET
In 1980 Mount St. Helens in Washington
State suffered a catastrophic landslide that released seething volcanic gases
and rock fragments in a cataclysm that destroyed hundreds of square miles of
forest. Could Africa’s fabled Mount Kilimanjaro be heading for the same fate?
NOVA accompanies an expedition up Kilimanjaro to learn what the future holds
for the world’s tallest volcano, on Volcano Above the Clouds, airing Tuesday,
November 25, 2003, at 8PM ET on PBS (check local listings).
An added mystery is why
Kilimanjaro’s distinctive summit glaciers are shrinking. Expected to disappear
totally by 2015, the vanishing ice has been cited as an icon of global
warming. But could there be another explanation?
The roster for the ambitious
climb is as unique as the mountain itself and includes African-born naturalist
Robin Buxton, an expert on the ecology of Kilimanjaro who has been permanently
disabled from polio since age two and whose first effort to summit Kilimanjaro
borders on the heroic. Also on the expedition are German geologist Volker
Lorenz, a world authority on volcanoes; British geologist and team leader
Kevin Docherty; and Tanzanian park ranger and naturalist Michael Ngatolowa.
Like most Africans who live in
the shadow of Africa’s highest peak, Ngatolowa has never had access to the
expensive equipment needed to make the arduous trek to Kilimanjaro’s
19,340-foot summit. His personal goal: to see snow, a substance that he has
only glimpsed from afar and that clings like perpetual clouds to the
mountain’s lofty top.
Towering high above the Masai
Steppe just a few degrees south of the equator, Kilimanjaro was created by the
eruption of three separate volcanoes that formed from three hundred thousand
to eight hundred thousand years ago.
Though considered long dormant,
Kilimanjaro shows evidence that it is ripe for a Mount St. Helens-style
explosion, an event that would be devastating to those who farm the region
surrounding the mountain, where a distinctive style of agriculture called tree
gardening is practiced. The technique uses the shade of larger trees to
protect crops such as coffee and bananas from the hot equatorial sun.
While geologists Lorenz and
Docherty are focused on Kilimanjaro’s slumbering volcanic forces, naturalists
Buxton and Ngatolowa investigate the source of Kilimanjaro’s vital water
supply. Are the mountain’s melting glaciers a significant factor in nourishing
crops? And when the glaciers are gone, how will agriculture be affected?
These projected dual
calamities—volcanic eruption and disappearing water—are the reasons
Kilimanjaro is sometimes said to be dying. It’s an apocalypse that’s hard to
picture during the spectacular climb up the mountain, which reveals a
succession of different biomes—from village to rain forest to cloud forest to
alpine to arctic, all of which host an amazing variety of plant and animal
And in the thin air at the top is an
eerie moonscape, spotted with smoking volcanic fumaroles, slowly melting
100-foot-high glaciers, and, most amazing of all for one team member, snow.
Interesting Turkey day show....
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