The world's highest free-standing mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro, could be gone by 2060, scientists have claimed.
Between 1912 and 2011, the mass of ice on the summit of the 19,341ft dormant stratovolcano in Tanzania decreased by more than 85 percent, researchers with NASA's Earth Observatory said.
AdvertisementKimberly Casey, a glaciologist based at the US space agency's Goddard Space Flight Centre, who visited the mountain earlier this year, also noticed Kilimanjaro's north ice field had separated.
The glacier had been developing a hole since the Seventies, but this is the first year in which it had been seen to divide in two, the Daily Mail reported.
"We were able to walk on land - or we could have even ridden a bicycle - directly through the rift," Dr Casey said.
Scientists now warn it's no longer a question of whether Kilimanjaro's ice will disappear, but when.
Estimates vary, but several scientists predict it will be gone by 2060.
Despite Mount Kilimanjaro's location in the tropics, the dry and cold air at the top of the mountain has sustained large quantities of ice for more than 10,000 years.
At points, ice has completely surrounded the crater. Studies of ice core samples show that Kilimanjaro's ice has persisted through multiple warm spells, droughts, and periods of abrupt climate change.
Rising air temperatures due to global warming could be contributing to the ice loss, researchers said, but a number of other factors are just as important, if not more so.
An increasingly dry regional atmosphere, for example, is starving the mountain of the fresh snow needed to sustain the ice fields.
Drier air is also reducing cloud cover and allowing more solar energy to warm the ice surfaces.