PE&RS March 2017 Public - page 168

March 2017
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Photogrammetric Engineering & Remote Sensing
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Stories about Mount
Kilimanjaro often focus
on its height and loca-
tion. The mountain—
the tallest in Africa—is
capped with snow and
ice, despite sitting at a
tropical latitude close
to the equator. This
volcanic mountain in
Tanzania also has been
in the news lately be-
cause that snowcap is
shrinking, and scien-
tists have gone to great
lengths to understand
Viewed from a wide,
top-down view, Kili-
manjaro becomes com-
pelling for a different
reason: To get to the icy
summit, you must pass
through incredibly di-
verse vegetation zones.
Those zones are visible
in this natural-color im-
age, acquired on Jan-
uary 20, 2017, by the
Advanced Land Imager
(ALI) on NASA’s Earth Observing-1 satellite. The mountain rises 5200 meters (17,000
feet) from the hot, dry savanna, through rainforest and hardy scrublands, to a rocky
and icy summit at 5895 meters (19,340 feet) above sea level.
People have cultivated the lowlands ringing the mountain, which appear as patchy
green areas in the bottom-left corner of this image. There is little natural vegetation
on the foothills. Instead, people have taken advantage of the volcano’s rich soil to
grow maize and beans, and to establish home gardens and coffee farms.
The continuous dark-green band around the mountain is forest, which stretches from
roughly 1800 to 2800 meters in elevation. Ground-based researchers have found dis-
tinct ecosystems and forest types within this green band, but from space, we most-
ly see it as the lower boundary of Kilimanjaro National Park. When the park was
established in 1973, only small corridors within the forest belt were protected. In
2005, the park boundaries were redrawn to include the more of the montane forests.
As we move up Kilimanjaro, the dark green areas transition to a band of green-
brown known as the moorland zone. Vegetation still survives here, but it is nothing
like the wet, humid forests found at lower elevations. The climate is colder and less
humid, and the landscape is full of shorter, hardier plants such as the mountain’s
iconic senecios and lobelias. The moorland landscape extends to about 4000 me-
ters, above which vegetation becomes even more scarce.
The highest alpine desert and summit zones are relatively inhospitable.
NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using EO-1 ALI data provided cour-
tesy of the NASA EO-1 team. Caption by Kathryn Hansen. The full image can be
viewed at
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