The effects of climate change on human populations and entire ecosystems is now becoming a very real part of every day life.
NARO MORU, Kenya (AP) -- Rivers of ice at the Equator -- foretold in the 2nd century, found in the 19th -- are now melting away in this new century, returning to the realm of lore and fading photographs.
From mile-high Naro Moru, villagers have watched year by year as the great glaciers of Mount Kenya, glinting in the equatorial sun high above them, have retreated into shrunken white stains on the rocky shoulders of the 16,897-foot peak.
Climbing up, "you can hear the water running down beneath Diamond and Darwin," mountain guide Paul Nditiru said, speaking of two of 10 surviving glaciers.
Some 200 miles due south, the storied snows of Mount Kilimanjaro, the tropical glaciers first seen by disbelieving Europeans in 1848, are vanishing. And to the west, in the heart of equatorial Africa, the ice caps are shrinking fast atop Uganda's Rwenzoris -- the "Mountains of the Moon" imagined by ancient Greeks as the source of the Nile River.
The total loss of ice masses ringing Africa's three highest peaks, projected by scientists to happen sometime in the next two to five decades, fits a global pattern playing out in South America's Andes Mountains, in Europe's Alps, in the Himalayas and beyond.
Almost every one of more than 300 large glaciers studied worldwide is in retreat, international glaciologists reported in October in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. This is "essentially a response to post-1970 global warming," they said.
Hardships may spread even to Nairobi, Kenya's metropolis. Most of this country's shaky electric grid relies on hydropower, and much of that is drawn from waters streaming off Mount Kenya. In a U.N. study issued in early November, scientists predicted that the glacial rivers of Mount Kenya and the rest of east Africa may dry up in 15 years.
"The repercussions on people living down the slopes will be terrible," said Kenyan environmentalist Grace Akumu.
Scientists say such repercussions would multiply across a world where human settlements have come to depend on steady runoffs from healthy glaciers -- in Peru and Bolivia, India and China. And it would extend beyond that, they say, to coastal settlements everywhere, as oceans rise from heat expansion and the melting of land ice.
The October journal report, by European and North American glaciologists, estimates that glacier melt contributed up to one-third of the 1-to-2-inch rise in global sea levels in the past decade. And that contribution is accelerating. Since 2001, they report, dying glaciers apparently have doubled their runoff into the world's rising seas.