Brown University shieldBrown University

Paleoclimate, Paleolimnology, and Glacier History of the Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda/Congo

Speke glacier with Lake Ruhandika occupying the cirque below. The lake formed in recent decades due to glacier retreat. credit: Hilde Eggermont.Speke glacier with Lake Ruhandika occupying the cirque below. The lake formed in recent decades due to glacier retreat. credit: Hilde Eggermont.









Recent Project News

  • Photos from the January 2008 Expedition to Recover New Piston Cores from Rwenzori Lakes
  • Paleolimnological records of recent and Little Ice Age glacier history and lacustrine ecosystem impacts, submitted to the Journal of Paleolimnology
  • Limnological Surveys of 15 Lakes in the Rwenzori, Uganda/DRC published in Hydrobiologia

Project Objectives

Recent observations of glacial termini in the Rwenzori Mountains (the so-called Mountains of the Moon; Uganda-DR Congo) confirm rapid glacial recession over the past 100 years. The rates of this recession suggest that the permanent ice will disappear entirely within the next two decades. In order to understand the climatic controls of glacier recession, the relative impacts of human-induced global warming versus natural climate variability, and the long-term tropical mountain ecosystem and glacier stability in the Rwenzori, there is an urgent need for sound knowledge of past climate and ecosystem variability and glacier dynamics in this high mountain environment. Sediments accumulating on the bottom of alpine glacial lakes chronicle the history of central African climate and environmental dynamics, and can thus provide the historical perspective needed for resource conservation.

The main goal of our research program (2005-present) is to investigate century-scale variability in rainfall and temperature and its impact on alpine glaciation and ecosystems in central equatorial Africa during the mid- to late Holocene through multi-proxy analysis of sediment records from Rwenzori lakes. To this end, we maintain an active field and laboratory research programme to:

  • Explore the physical and chemical limnlogy of virtually all lakes on the Ugandan side of the range
  • Collect temperature, humidity, and rainfall data using automated in-situ loggers from multiple sites at 1,500-5,000 masl
  • Calibrate sedimentological, geochemical and biological climate-proxy indicators through analysis of their variation in the surface sediments of lakes and pools both above 4000 m (with some direct input of glacial meltwater) and below 4000 m (remote from current glacial melt)
  • Develop chironomid- and diatom-based transfer functions for quantitative reconstruction of air and lake temperature and nutrient regime
  • Quantify the effects of temperature and rainfall amount on the isotopic composition of Rwenzori meteoric waters using field data and isotope-enabled climate models for quantitative reconstruction of precipitation amount
  • Identify the lakes most suitable for high-resolution paleoclimate reconstruction; and recover ong sediment cores from the most promising sites to construct a regional picture of African paleoclimate history over the past 5000 years.

Finally, we also aim to document the poorly known biodiversity of aquatic algae, insects and micro-crustacea in the unique setting of tropical high-elevation lakes. Apart from throwing light on the auto-ecology and biogeography of the different groups of Afroalpine aquatic biota, the data will also provide a baseline against which to compare future ecological changes.

Project Personnel:


Project Data

Project datasets are password protected but are available to authorized personnel. We are happy to provide data as long as your use does not overlap significantly with our ongoing research. Please email [email protected] to describe your intended use of the data. Available datasets include:

  • Air temperature measurements from 16 Hobo Tidbit temperature loggers, 2-hour resolution, 2005-2008
  • Limnological data (bathymetric maps, temperature, conductivity, pH, dissolved oxygen, pigment concentrations, POC/PON concentrations, etc.) from virtually all lakes and pools on the Ugandan side of the Rwenzori. Updated datasets are available in addition to data in Eggermont et al. (2007)
  • Stable isotopic (d18O, dD) data from numerous Rwenzori lakes and rivers sampled in 2005-2008

Images below: Isotopic compositions of some lakes in rivers in the Rwenzori (left); air temperature and relative humidity at Bigo, 3500 m asl.



















Eggermont, H. R., and Verschuren, D. 2006. Taxonomy and diversity of Afroalpine Chironomidae (Insecta: Diptera) on Mount Kenya and the Rwenzori Mountains, East Africa. Journal of Biogeography, 1-21.

Eggermont, H., Russell, J. M., Schetter, G., Vandamme, K., Verschuren, D., 2007. Physical and chemical limnology of alpine lakes and pools in the Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda-Congo. Hydrobiologia 592: 151-173.

Russell, J.M., Eggermont, H.R., Verschuren, D., 2008 . Comparative paleolimnological records of recent glacial recession in the Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda-D.R. Congo. Journal of Paleolimnology, doi 10.1007/210933-008-9224-4

Kaczmarek L., L. Michalczyk & H. Eggermont, 2008. Dactylobiotus luci, a new freshwater tardigrade (Eutardigrada, Macrobiotidae) from the Rwenzori Mountains (Uganda/DR Congo). African Zoology, in press


  • The National Geographic Society
  • Fund for Scientific Research of Flanders
  • Richard B. Salomon Fund, Brown University
  • King Leopold III fund for Nature Exploration and Conservation
  • Stichting ter bevordering van het wetenschappelijk onderzoek in Afrika