Dear esteemed reader,
We are glad to be back from establishing the first GLORIA (Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments) sites in Africa – on the Rwenzori (popularly known as the Mountains of the Moon) and Elgon mountains. You will have seen some of the earlier pictures from Rwenzori.
Frost, snow, hailstones,freezing temperatures, strong winds, heavy rains and mist – all combined, formed some of the hardships we endured on these intriguing mountains, we could not avoid but wallow in deep bogs, endure bouts of high altitude sickness as well as labour to catch some sleep!!! If it was not for the encouragement of our experienced guides, we may as well have given up before reaching our camps. Nonetheless, the expedition was so exciting that we will live to remember the mind-blowing sight of the spectacular snow-capped peaks, the extensive and gentle calderas and the days we huddled around the charcoal stove just to get some warmth.
GLORIA targets high mountain regions because of their similar climatic conditions across the globe. This makes it possible to compare climate-induced changes worldwide. In addition, mountains host high diversity of plants and animals, many of which can only survive at such high altitudes characterized by low temperatures. Low-temperature limits of plant life on high mountains are considered to be particularly sensitive to climate change. Therefore, potential biodiversity losses caused by climate change may be more pronounced for mountain ecosystems compared to ecosystems of lower altitudes. More still, high mountain environments comprise real wilderness habitats with ecosystems undisturbed by direct anthropogenic influence. Our study will contribute to the global data base which will allow for comparisons of climate change impacts across continents.
This long term monitoring initiative is being implemented in areas where these changes are expected to occur fastest. One hundred twenty eight 1m2 permanent sampling quadrants were established at eight mountain tops (GLORIA Summits) on both sites. Within the quadrants, plant species composition and abundance were assessed. The quadrants were also photographed to provide an overview of plant cover. The summits were geo-referenced using the Global Positioning System (GPS). These high altitude plots were established from 4000 meters ASL. Thirty two data loggers (four at each summit) were installed in the ground to record soil temperature. By comparing plant species composition and soil temperature records, we will get a better understanding of the influence of global warming on plant migrations to higher elevations. All these summits will be re-measured after five years.
The good news is that in Rwenzori some peaks still have glaciers. However, these glaciers are receding fast. One of our experienced guides, John Muhindo told us that there were glaciers even at Elena Hut (about 4500m ASL) in the 1970s. During our fieldwork from the same point, the glaciers appeared to have receded some 300 meters high-up the mountain. We think this could largely be attributed to climate change.
We are proud to pioneer this type of research in Africa. Our team of enthusiastic scientists included ITFC’s Badru Mugerwa, Robert Barigyira and Fredrick Ssali; WCS botanist Ben Kirunda; UWA rangers Abel Basikania, Erick Mulewa, Alfred Masereka, Joseph Wasike, James Matanda, Patrick Muzaale, Alex Salim, Francis Musobo and Mike Mazune. Special thanks go to our trainers Anton Seimon, Stephan Halloy and Mariana Musicante for demonstrating to us the GLORIA methods.
Below are pictures to highlight our GLORIA fieldwork in Rwenzori and Elgon;
Heading for GLORIA field work above 4000 m ASL: the Rwenzori GLORIA team leaves Guy Yeoman hut for the base camp at Kitandara camping ground
Plot established: This GLORIA summit was established near Elena hut at about 4500m ASL in Rwenzori
Another plot established: this GLORIA summit was established at about 4200m ASL in Rwenzori
Men at work: Salim B. Alex (with a pointing stick), Joseph Wasike (middle) and James Matanda identifying plants in the sampling grid of a high altitude GLORIA summit in Elgon
At work: Mulewa Erick (left holding tape on string), Badru Mugerwa (right with black jacket holding clipboard) and Robert Barigyira (in green walking along the tape) record plants in a GLORIA summit of Elgon
One of the GLORIA summits in Elgon with string delimiting the sampling sections: the field team shelters data sheets from a drizzle in misty weather
All smiles… Badru and I after establishing GLORIA plots in Rwenzori
Badru Mugerwa and Fredrick Ssali