Kilimanjaro: The Last Glacier
Work in progress by Ian van Coller
Climate change has become a common buzz-word, but the layman understanding of it is both rudimentary and intangible. Ian van Coller intends to bridge the gap between art and science and transform this issue into a form we can grasp- literally. Van Coller has received funding from the Montana State University for an artist's book and photo-project on the subject- Kilimanjaro: the Last Glacier. This August (2016) van Coller will join a team of scientists and researchers funded by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the National Geodetic Survey who are working to record as much significant data from the ice-sheets as possible. This project is both a reflection on climate change and the study of deep time.
Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro is iconic and mythical. Its flat-topped, ice-covered peak rises dramatically from the surrounding lowlands of Tanzania to a height of 19,341 feet above sea-level. As a destination, it is both legendary and “popular;” it has captured the imagination and drawn adventurers, writers, artists, and scientists from all corners of the globe. Its summit is remembered in mid 19th century postcards; inspired Earnest Hemmingway’s 1936 short story The Snows of Kilimanjarom; and later a 1952 Technicolor film based on the Hemmingway story. It has since become one of the most widely photographed destinations in Africa.
Kilimanjaro is more than an icon of scale; it is home to some of the last remaining glaciers on the African continent. These are not just any icy sheets- they are among the rarest and most susceptible glaciers in the world. Due to their latitude, Kilimanjaro’s glaciers are considered “tropical;” they are particularly susceptible to sunlight and climate fluctuations. Kilimanjaro’s peak is comprised of three volcanic calderas; the Furtwängler Glacier lies within the largest. Scientists predict it will be extinct within the next decade; its loss promises to carry heavy cultural and scientific significance.
Shrinking glaciers will affect the thousands of Tanzanians who currently find employment as guides, porters and cooks for visitors seeking to trek its slopes. In recent decades, Kilimanjaro National Park has become a destination of over 50,000 tourists each year, at least 16,000 of who attempt to reach its icy summit. Glacial extinctions in Peru, as parallel example, have devastated formerly thriving tourist industries that depended on cerulean blue peaks to draw international visitors. The loss of the white cap that covers Kilimanjaro will likely have an even broader impact.
If climate change weren't impetus enough for his work, van Coller sees the importance of glacial ice as many scientists do- a record vital to our understanding of our planet’s history. Glaciers are known to contain historical data, including invaluable atmospheric records spanning hundreds of thousands of years into the past. Embedded in the ice is dust, pollen, bacteria, viruses and gasses, all a direct record and link back to the year they became encased. Except for information gleaned or gathered by ice scientists, this record of the past will be lost with melting ice.
View more work by Ian van Coller related to Climate Change: Lundi, Fissure, The Last Glacier, Antarctica.