A Tannourine forest cedar that died from an insect infestation. Global warming is killing the cedar trees of Lebanon. Photo: Josh Haner / The New York Times

By Anne Barnard; photography by Josh Haner
18 July 2018

Barouk Cedar Forest, Lebanon (The New York Times) – Walking among the cedars on a mountain slope in Lebanon feels like visiting the territory of primeval beings. Some of the oldest trees have been here for more than 1,000 years, spreading their uniquely horizontal branches like outstretched arms and sending their roots deep into the craggy limestone. They flourish on the moisture and cool temperatures that make this ecosystem unusual in the Middle East, with mountaintops that snare the clouds floating in from the Mediterranean Sea and gleam with winter snow.

But now, after centuries of human depredation, the cedars of Lebanon face perhaps their most dangerous threat: Climate change could wipe out most of the country’s remaining cedar forests by the end of the century.

As temperatures rise, the cedars’ ecological comfort zone is moving up the mountains to higher altitudes, chasing the cold winters they need to reproduce. But here in the Barouk forest, part of the Shouf Biosphere Reserve, south of Beirut, there isn’t much farther up to go. If the climate warms at the rates expected because of the continued rise of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, some scholars say that by 2100 cedars will be able to thrive only at the northern tip of the country, where the mountains are higher.

In the north, though, there are different problems. Lebanon’s densest cedar forest, the Tannourine Cedars Forest Nature Reserve, has lost more than 7 percent of its trees to insect infestations unknown before 1997. They are directly tied to a warming, drying climate. […]

This year, winter was mild. Omar Abu Ali, the ecotourism coordinator for the Shouf Biosphere Reserve, Lebanon’s largest protected area, pointed to evidence on the ground in the Barouk forest.

It was early April 2018, and cedar seedlings were beginning to pop up from the soil. Normally the seedlings don’t come up until early May. Earlier, they risk dying in cold snaps and are more vulnerable to insects. “This is early germination,” Mr. Abu Ali said. “They can die.”

A generation ago, it typically rained or snowed 105 days a year in the mountains. High up, snow stayed on the ground for three to four months. This past winter, there were just 40 days of rain and a only month of snow cover.

“Climate change is a fact here,” said Nizar Hani, the Shouf Biosphere’s director. “There is less rain, higher temperatures, and more extreme temperatures,” both hot and cold, he said.

“The cedar forest is migrating to higher altitudes,” he said. And it is unclear, he added, which of the species that usually live alongside the cedars will survive higher up, further changing the ecosystem. […]

“We are in a race,” said Dr. Hani. “There is no time to lose.” [more]

Climate Change Is Killing the Cedars of Lebanon

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