The Influence of Tropical Cyclones on Kilimanjaro’s Glaciers

Cyclone Bondo

NASA image of very intense tropical cyclone Bondo off the coast of Equatorial East Africa in December 2006.
(by Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center)

Glaciers in Equatorial East Africa (EEA) provide valuable long-term records of environmental change in the tropics and are key for understanding how large-scale climate signals manifest at regional and local scales. However, extraction of climate information from glacier records relies on an accurate understanding of atmospheric influences on local conditions. While previous studies have investigated the potential influence of natural atmospheric variability on multi-annual timescales on the glaciers, the influence of variability on sub-seasonal timescales has not been examined. Two important sub-seasonal phenomena are the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) and tropical cyclones (TCs). The MJO strongly influences precipitation in EEA, with wetter conditions associated with unusual winds from the west that transport moisture from the Congo Basin to the region. Recent case studies have shown that TCs may also play a complementary and potentially independent role in triggering this unusual moisture transport, which is associated with the most extreme rainfall in EEA and snowfall on the region’s glaciers. We will combine reanalysis, observational, and archived TC data, as well as high-resolution atmospheric modelling, to evaluate the long-term influence of these storms on precipitation in EEA and snowfall on the glaciers alongside intraseasonal atmospheric variability. The project will contribute to an improved understanding of rainfall variability over East Africa and provide a foundation for refining the understanding of the climate proxy offered by the glaciers.

Project leaders: 
Emily Collier
Lindsey Nicholson

Robert Peal

External Partners: 
Douglas Hardy (U. Mass)
Tobias Sauter (HU Berlin)
Thomas Mölg (FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg)

Funding Agencies: 

Project Duration: 
1 September 2023 to 31 August 2026 (36 months)

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