Will we be asking “Where are the snows of yesteryear?”

The main road south from Meknes crosses the high Middle Atlas plateau just south of Ifrane. In the distance, looking south, the eastern High Atlas towers above the Upper Moulouya River valley.

This week, the International Panel on Climate Change issued a long anticipated report on climate change, its sixth since 1988, and almost 4,000 pages long. The gist of the report is that the nations of the world may still be able to stabilize rising global temperatures and limit their rise from the 1850 to 1900 period to 1.5° Celsius (2.7° F)—but only by immediate, serious, and concerted efforts over the next decade or so. Within the report some scientists suggested that there must be dramatic action within the next four years.

A few days ago, the New York Times published an article, “How much hotter is your hometown?”, in which you could input where you live and when you were born to see how much temperatures have risen over your lifetime and how much they can be expected to rise in the next century.

The series of temperature data used for comparison only begins in 1960, so I decided to use 1968 as the date of my birth, the year that I stepped off a PanAm 707 onto the tarmac in Salé to spend the first four of the seven years that I would live in Morocco. I now live close to where I was born in Western New York so I thought it would be interesting to look at Niagara Falls, New York and Sefrou, Morocco. The first location has a temperate climate, tempered by Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, while the latter has a Mediterranean one, where a 3,000-foot elevation moderates the temperature.

In 1968, Niagara Falls had one day of temperatures of 90° F or more (32.2° C). Sefrou had 34 days. Today Niagara Falls still has only one day, but Sefrou has 65 days. In twenty years, the respective number of days of 90°+ for each city will be two and 85. Near the end of the century, the 90°+ days will rise to 12 for Niagara Falls and nearly 100 for Sefrou. Needless to say, in both locations summers will be much hotter. The number of 90°+ days represents only a daily high.

The consequences of this change will be enormous. Today we see daily reports of destructive wildfires and drought in California, which has a Mediterranean climate like Morocco, as well as wildfires all around the Mediterranean itself. Fires in the Kabylie recently claimed scores of lives. In the future, with more heat in the atmosphere, storms and other severe weather events will certainly increase in strength. All this will happen, without adding in still unknown tipping points such as the potential collapse of the Gulf Stream.

Today I think of the many Middle Atlas lakes and the great forests of Atlas cedars, and wonder what will happen to them.

The forest at Tafferte in 1968 or 1969, outside the old ski hut.

Will the lakes be drained for irrigation or even drinking water?

Seated on the terrace of Le château du lac beside Dayet Aoua in 1969 or 1970. Note the pedal boats. The lake is now dry.

Will the cedars fail to regenerate in a drier, hotter environment especially after the forest substrata of green oaks is gone, burned for production of lime or charcoal?

Producing lime near Sefrou by burning green oak. At higher elevations, the green oak provides a valuable microenvironment for young cedars.

Will the snows of the high plateaus and mountains become ephemeral? And, more importantly, what will happen to the pastoralists and farmers in the coming new environment?

Some of the news that comes from Morocco is disquieting. Birds once common around Daya Afourgah have disappeared, and satellite photos show great expanses of dried up shoreline, and what look like irrigated fields.

Picnicking beside Daya Afourgah in 1969 or 1970. Photo by Gaylord Barr.

The karst lakes of the Middle Atlas have always risen and fallen with snow and subterranean flow, but today some seem to be drained.

A recent aerial photo of Daya Afourgah, which displays large areas formerly under water. Google Earth, 2021.
A quiet evening on Lake Afourgah. In the autumn, great flocks of starlings would congregate around the reed beds. The flocks would perform aerial acrobatics including diving toward the surface of the lake and pulling up virtually at the water’s surface. Photo from 1968.

Daya Ifrah, the largest of the Ifrane region’s lakes, is suffering fish kills from the chemicals in agricultural runoff.

Daya Ifrah, the largest lake, in the Ifrane area, is now polluted by agricultural runoff. Photo from Yabiladi, © 2020.

Daya Aoua seems to have been drained entirely for irrigation of surrounding apple orchards. Contrast this photo with that of the one above taken years ago at the Chateau du lac. Photo by Jassim Ahdani from Hespress, © 2119.

Despite the increasingly better modeling of climate change, so many unknowns exist that it is difficult to fathom why anyone would risk the future of the planet, and yet that is exactly what has been happening for years.

In the United States, by the end of this decade, scientists project that the glaciers of Glacier National Park will disappear entirely, and we may soon be chanting Villon’s familiar refrain, “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?” Will the beauty of the snows of the Atlas become as ephemeral as the beauty of Villon’s women?

* For you lovers of the English language, the poet Gabriel Dante Rossetti, in his translation of La ballade des femmes du temps jadis, coined the word yester-year now in use as yesteryear, as a translation for thé French word jadis.

Author: Dave

Retired. Formerly school librarian, social studies teacher, and urban planner.

4 thoughts on “Will we be asking “Where are the snows of yesteryear?””

  1. Your early photos contrast starkly with the recent ones, pictorially bringing home the folly of ignoring climate change. Drastic action is needed by all. Thank you, Dave


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