GLACIAL PROFILING: The snows of Kilimanjaro could disappear completely as soon as 2022, leaving Africa's tallest peak unfrozen for the first time in almost 12,000 years, scientists warn today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The legendary mountain's snow and ice has been melting away rapidly in recent decades — declining 26 percent since 2000 and 85 percent since 1912 — and will most likely vanish in about 20 years, the study's authors report. While they haven't reached a consensus that manmade climate change is to blame for Kilimanjaro's meltdown, the researchers did note that the recent melting is unprecedented in the last 11,700 years, and, when taken in conjunction with similar melting of glaciers from the Andes to the Himalayas, "the evidence becomes very compelling." (Sources: New York Times, USA Today, Independent)
GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN: In related news, Nepal's cabinet announced Monday that it will hold a meeting at Mount Everest's base camp later this month, hoping to draw attention to that mountain's melting glaciers ahead of December's U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen. The strategy is akin to one employed recently by the Maldives cabinet, who met in scuba gear underwater last month to highlight their low-lying islands' vulnerability to rising sea levels. (Source: Associated Press)
RED LIST: A prominent Swiss conservation group issued its annual endangered-species report card today, and, as usual, the grades aren't pretty. Out of a total of 47,677 plants and animals worldwide, 17,291 of them face a real threat of extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's "Red List," which includes 2,800 new species not found on last year's report. The endangered list includes one in five of all known mammals, more than a quarter of reptiles and 70 percent of plants. Despite the large numbers of species included on the list, it can barely scratch the surface of the 1.8 million species known to science — not to mention the countless more still undiscovered. "These results are just the tip of the iceberg," said Craig Hilton-Taylor, manager of the IUCN Red List Unit, in a prepared statement. "There are many more millions [of species] out there which could be under serious threat." (Sources: AP, Scientific American, BBC News)
SEA CHANGE: A new ocean is forming in Africa, but we'll have to wait a million years or so to go swimming in it. That's according to a study published in the latest issue of Geophysical Research Letters, which confirms that a 35-mile-long rift through the Ethiopian desert — which suddenly ripped open in 2005 — is indeed the beginning of a new ocean, being formed as the two halves of Africa slowly pull the continent apart. The crack is 20 feet wide in some places, and will eventually be filled with water from the Red Sea as it continues to "unzip" Africa wider and wider, the researchers found by analyzing seismic data from the 2005 event. In addition to the prospect of a new ocean, the study also demonstrates that such continental drift doesn't always happen in slow, methodical movements, but can also occur in jarring jolts like in 2005. (Sources: e! Science News, LiveScience)
LION EYES: A pair of man-eating lions famously terrorized rail workers and villagers across Kenya's Tsavo region in 1898, leading to various horror stories, tall tales and at least three movies in the 111 years since. British, Indian and local Kenyan rail workers were in Tsavo working on the Uganda Railroad when the lions began preying on them, but the total death count has been difficult to pin down over the years — the Ugandan Railway Company reported 28 dead, while the British officer who finally killed the lions claimed the total was 135. Now a group of scientists is hunting down the real answer by studying the chemical composition of the lions' bodies, which are stuffed and on display at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History (pictured), to determine what they ate during their final weeks and months of life. By testing the types of nitrogen and carbon in their teeth and fur, the researchers deduced one of the big cats ate 24 people in 1898, while the other one ate 11. Still, the lions may not have eaten everyone they killed, the researchers acknowledge, and estimate the overall death count may have been as high as 75. (Sources: AP, Nature News)
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Photo (Mount Kilimanjaro): ZUMA Press
Photo (frog): Brad Wilson, IUCN/AP
Photo (Tsavo lions): Charles Rex Arbogast/AP
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