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A mountain view of biomes and ice caps

NSF Award:

Resilience and Vulnerability in a Rapidly Changing North: The Integration of Physical, Biological and Social Processes  (University of Alaska Fairbanks Campus)

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Giving new meaning to the term "distance learning," students in Alaska and across the world learned about biomes, shrinking glaciers and scientific exploration through a pair of teleconferences with teachers perched on Mount Kilimanjaro.

During a 2011 expedition, the teachers, located at Crater Camp, 5590 meters (18,340 feet) up the mountain, connected with more than 6,500 students and teachers at 116 sites in 10 countries. Students asked the teachers questions through a direct link. Mount Kilimanjaro is an especially fertile spot to teach about climate because its six biomes exhibit characteristics of environments from the equator to the North Pole.

One popular question concerned the mountain's ice cap, which has lost 80 percent of its mass in the last century. Likely causes of the shrinkage are climate change brought on by deforestation or a shift in monsoon patterns. After analyzing data retrieved during the last expedition, researchers were able to discount a theory that the ice cap shrinkage results from ground warming from volcanic activity.

The 2011 expedition was one of three to Tanzania's top peak sponsored by the GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) Seasons and Biomes program. GLOBE teaches students in Alaska and worldwide how to use scientific methods to study climate change and seasonality. GLOBE is funded by the Alaska Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).  


  • an expedition member during 2011 ascent of mount kilimanjaro
Barney Peterson during the GLOBE ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Mike O'Toole

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