I discussed the southernmost glaciers in the northern hemisphere in the last installment and found some surprising answers. Today I take the opposite tack and examine the northernmost glaciers in the southern hemisphere. Let’s start again by reviewing the worldwide glacier map I discovered on the U.S. Geological Survey site.
U.S. Geological Survey
To recap the earlier post, the Cayambe Volcano in Ecuador has the southernmost glacier in the northern hemisphere. The peak of the volcano can be found at 0.02° north latitude, maybe two kilometres from the equator. Notice that I specified the peak of the volcano. The ice cap is considerably larger and a small corner of it does cross the equator. In fact this is reputed to be the point of highest elevation anywhere along the equator at about 4,600 metres / 15,000 feet, although I’ve not been able to confirm that independently. It looks feasible based on a quick eyeballing.
I’m still looking for a map with sufficient detail but maybe, just maybe Cayambe has a southern hemispheric glacier descending from its impressive cap. Imagine if the answer to the southernmost northern hemisphere glacier and the northernmost southern hemisphere glacier both came back to Cayambe. Assuming it could be proven, wouldn’t that be one of the most amazing geo-oddity trivia question ever posed?
Another contender from an equally counterintuitive place gives Cayambe a good run for the money: Mount Kenya, located not too surprisingly in Kenya.
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This one is located at 0.15° south of the equator, just a stone’s throw into the southern hemisphere. Notice however from the satellite image that the snow cap isn’t all that impressive. Mount Kenya has eleven glaciers but all of them are small and receding. New ice is not forming. People who have studied Mount Kenya predict that the permanent ice cap will be gone before 2040.
When the glaciers melt completely from Mount Kenya, and that is likely to happen, one must return to South America for the next claimant. Antisana, another Andean peak in Ecuador has a well-defined ice cap, 17 outlet glaciers and 22.25 square kilometres of permanent snowy coverage.
Some of you may be wondering, what about Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania? Isn’t Kilimanjaro famous for its snow-capped summit on the equator? It’s close to the equator but not like the others, sitting all the way out at 3.07° south. Glaciers are retreating on Kilimanjaro too. They are expected to disappear by 2020. All of the African equatorial glaciers are expected to melt away to nothing, by the way. The Rwenzori Mountains on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) hold the remaining set African glaciers, just north of the equator. Those may be gone by 2025.
Equatorial glaciers in the southern hemisphere can also be found in Asia in the Indonesian Papuan central highlands on the western side of the island of New Guinea.
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Glaciation is found primarily on Puncak Jaya, also known as Carstensz Pyramid, at 4.08° south. Scientists traveled to Puncak Jaya in the summer of 2010 to study the glaciers and reported that they’d witnessed the icecap drop a foot in two weeks. This is the sole remaining glacial location in the western Pacific and the expert who visited it fear that the glaciers may be gone in less than five years.
By default, the remaining equatorial glaciers may be confined solely to the Andes within our lifetimes.