Documentary “Snows of the Nile’ tracks disappearing Uganda glaciers

Snows of the Nile

Glaciers are melting everywhere, but none so much as the rare equatorial ones that lie on the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda in east Africa.

The new documentary Snows of the Nile follows Neil Losin and Nate Dappen, two scientists and photographers whose ambitious expedition is to return to the original sites documented in  historical glacier photographs from the Uganda’s glaciers, the Rwenzoris. Retracing the steps of the Duke of Abruzzi’s legendary 1906 ascent, the images bear witness to a century of climate change. Losin and Dappen, who won a “Stay Thirsty Grant” from Dos Equis (yes, the beer), produced, filmed and edited the documentary.

Uganda’s glaciers, at the heart of Africa, are expected to completely disappear in a decade or two. The Bakonjo people call the Rwenzoris home. They rely on the glaciers not only as a source for water but also as an attraction that generates tourism revenue. Rapid deglaciation results in reduced access to water in rural areas. Women now have to walk longer distances to get water from rivers, lakes and wells, and there is no guarantee that the new sources of water are as clean as the glacial meltwater. Moreover, reduced water availability deepens frequent and prolonged droughts; food security is affected, as rural farmers heavily depend on rain for their crops. Deglaciation also results in a decline of mountain tourism, which leads men to travel long distances in the search for jobs. Moreover, the receding glaciers now contribute less to water flow in the Nyamwamba River, leading to noticeable declines in hydroelectric power.

A group of researchers from a Ugandan university and international organizations just returning from the Rwenzories have predicted the glaciers there may cease to exist in two decades, possibly as early as the mid-2020s, following an expedition to the mountains named the Doomed Glaciers of Africa expedition. Studies have shown that from 1906 to 2003, the area covered by glaciers has reduced from 7.5 square kilometers to less than 1 square kilometer -a small fraction of the original area.

Snows of the Nile and the researchers highlight the fragility of an equatorial glacier, in which all the ice in an the entire mountain range is disappearing. As is the case around the world, the future of the communities who rely on the glacial melt remains uncertain.

Snows of the Nile is available on iTunes and Vimeo.

One Response to “Documentary “Snows of the Nile’ tracks disappearing Uganda glaciers”

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    Many thanks for the post on the “Snows of the Nile” documentary which looks stunning. There are, however, two statements in the post that are factually incorrect.

    1) “Rapid deglaciation results in reduced access to water in rural areas. Women now have to walk longer distances to get water from rivers, lakes and wells, and there is no guarantee that the new sources of water are as clean as the glacial meltwater.” – Deglaciation has not had a substantial impact on alpine river flow or the region’s water resources. Meltwater flows from glaciers in the Rwenzori Mountains comprise much less than 0.5% of the river flow observed at the base of the mountains where people live. Further, people do not have access to the upper reaches of alpine rivers or glacial meltwater discharges as these exist within a National Park. To provide some perspective, remaining glaciers exist on the two highest summits (Mounts Stanley and Speke) and currently cover an area of less than 1 square kilometre; the catchment of the River Mubuku which receives the majority of the meltwater flows from glaciers, covers an area of 256 square kilometres where mean precipitation is in excess of 2 m per year. Compared to precipitation, glacial meltwaters represent the proverbial ‘drop in a bucket’.

    2) “Moreover, the receding glaciers now contribute less to water flow in the Nyamwamba River, leading to noticeable declines in hydroelectric power.” – The River Nyamwamba is not supplied by glacial meltwater discharges.

    Climate change, reflected in the recession of glaciers in the Rwenzori Mountains, does have important impacts on water resources not only around the mountains themselves but regionally. It is important to understand these changes in order to develop effective adaptation strategies. Read my post on GlacierHub about the glaciers here: http://glacierhub.org/2014/10/09/glaciers-recede-in-east-africas-mountains-of-the-moon/.

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