Kilimanjaro ballon flight collects climate change data


(eTN) – A recent successful attempt to cross Mt. Kilimanjaro via balloon was finally able to reach elevations suitable to collect weather and climate data that is supposed to flow into a wider study of the effects of global changes for the mountain and its immediate neighborhood.

A team from the Southern German university of Freiburg, together with Swiss colleagues, managed to reach over 5,500 metres elevation and drifted across much of the mountain’s side but failed in the face of prevailing winds to reach the top of the mountain peak, which stands at 5,895 meters above sea level. However, in the process of the flight, the researchers were able to use their equipment on board to measure particles high up in the air but nevertheless thought to be of crucial importance for interpreting and forecasting future changes of weather and regional climate.

Since last mid-century when the icecaps – immortalized by the 1936 book “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by Ernest Hemingway – were still covering well over 10 square kilometers, the present icefields are thought to be just over 2 square kilometers wide and have shrunk visibly, putting the water supply of an entire sub region into future doubt, as melt-off reduces as the ice gradually disappears.

The six passengers in the balloon included two Swiss pilots, the two scientists from Germany, a cameraman, and a journalist, the latter two covering the story for the media, hoping to raise further awareness of the present impact of global climate change and convincing the habitual deniers that indeed mother earth is sliding ever faster towards rising temperatures, which in turn may irreparably change life as we know it.

The flight, according to sources in Arusha and Moshi, was cleared by the Tanzanian Civil Aviation Authority although a staff member of Kilimanjaro National Park claimed he knew nothing about it and said “flying over the mountain is prohibited.”

The team is supposed to also fly across Ol Donyo Lengai in the coming days, an active volcano some distance between the Ngorongoro massif and Lake Natron, to gather added data on volcanic ash and gas concentrations found nearby, which might give added clues to the impact of volcanic eruptions on weather changes. The entire expedition is scheduled to last between two and three weeks, following which they will return to their universities to process the gathered data and then interpret them before publishing their findings.