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Glacier variations and rising temperature in the Mt. Kenya since the Last Glacial Maximum


High-resolution imagery can be used to reconstruct former glacier boundaries through the identification of glacial erosional and sedimentary geomorphology. We employed moraine mapping and the accumulation–area ratio method (AAR), in conjunction with Landsat, Google Earth, and SRTM imagery, to reconstruct glacier boundaries and equilibrium-line altitudes (ELAs) for Mt. Kenya in the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), the Little Ice Age (LIA), and at present. Our results show that the areas of Lewis Glacier and the Tyndall-I glacier system were 0.678 km2 and 0.390 km2, respectively, during the maximum of LIA. Those mean that the both glaciers have shrunken by 87.0% and 88.7%, respectively since the LIA. Area change ratios for each glacier were significantly larger in the period of 2000 through 2015 than the former periods, indicating that glacier recession has accelerated. Continuous ice loss in this region has been driven by rising temperature and fluctuating precipitation. Linear regression data for Lewis glacier show that mass balance sensitivity to dry season temperature was–315 mm w.e./°C, whereas the sensitivity to dry season precipitation was 5.2 mm w.e./mm. Our data also show that the ELA on the western slope of Mt. Kenya rose by 716–816 m from the LGM to the modern era, corresponding to that temperature rose by 5.2°C -6.5°C.

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This work was supported by the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Grant No. XDA19070302) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 41501069, 41601067). Funding was also provided by the Foundation of the State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Sciences (SKLCS) at Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources (NIEER), CAS (SKLCS-OP-2017-10). We thank the WGMS for providing ELA and AAR data, and the EROS Data Center-NASA/USGS for the use of available satellite imagery. We also thank the NOAA National Climatic Data Center for providing meteorological data. Special thanks are given to two anonymous reviewers and the journal editor for critical comments on this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ning-lian Wang.

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Chen, Aa., Wang, Nl., Guo, Zm. et al. Glacier variations and rising temperature in the Mt. Kenya since the Last Glacial Maximum. J. Mt. Sci. 15, 1268–1282 (2018).

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  • Remote sensing
  • Last Glacial Maximum
  • Little Ice Age
  • Glacier area
  • Equilibrium-line altitudes
  • Mt. Kenya