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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
© Author(s) 2016. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
27 Oct 2016
Review status
A revision of this discussion paper was accepted for the journal The Cryosphere (TC) and is expected to appear here in due course.
Ground surface temperatures indicate the presence of permafrost in North Africa (Djebel Toubkal, High Atlas, Morocco)
Gonçalo Vieira1, Carla Mora1, and Ali Faleh2 1Centre for Geographical Studies, IGOT, Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal
2Université Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah, Fès, Morocco
Abstract. Relict and present-day periglacial activity have been reported in the literature for the upper reaches of the High Atlas mountains, the highest range in North Africa (Djebel Toubkal – 4,167 m a.s.l.). Lobate features in the Irhzer Ikbi South at 3,800 m a.s.l. have been previously interpreted as an active rock glacier, but no measurements of ground or air temperatures are known to exist for the area. In order to assess on the possible presence of permafrost, analyse data from June 2015 to June 2016 from two air temperature sites at 2,370 and 3,200 m a.s.l., and from four ground surface temperature (GST) sites at 3,200, 3,815, 3,980 and 4,160 m a.s.l. allowing to characterize conditions along an altitudinal gradient along the Oued Ihghyghaye valley to the summit of the Djebel Toubkal. GST were collected at 1-hour intervals and the presence of snow cover at the monitoring sites was validated using Landsat-8 and Sentinel-2 imagery. Two field visits allowed for logger installation and collection and for assessing the geomorphological features in the area. The results show that snow plays a major role on the thermal regime of the shallow ground, inducing important spatial variability. The lowest site at 3,210 m showed a regime characterized by frequent freeze-thaw cycles during the cold season but with a small number of days of snow. When snow sets, the ground remains isothermal at 0 °C and the thermal regime indicates the absence of permafrost. The highest sites at 3,980 and 4,160 m a.s.l. showed very frequent freeze-thaw cycles and a small influence of the snow cover on GST, reflecting the lack of snow accumulation due to the their wind-exposed settings in a ridge and in the summit plateau. The site located at 3,815 m in the Irhzer Ikbi South valley showed a stable thermal regime from December to March with GST varying from −4.5 to −6 °C, under a continuous snow cover. The site's location in a concave setting favours snow accumulation and lower incoming solar radiation due to the effect of a southwards ridge, favouring the maintenance of a thick snow pack. The stable and low GST are interpreted as a strong indicator of the probable presence of permafrost at this site, an interpretation which is supported by the presence of lobate and arcuate forms in the talus deposits. These results are still a first approach and observations through geophysics and boreholes are foreseen. This is the first time that probable permafrost is reported from temperature observations in the mountains of North Africa.

Citation: Vieira, G., Mora, C., and Faleh, A.: Ground surface temperatures indicate the presence of permafrost in North Africa (Djebel Toubkal, High Atlas, Morocco), The Cryosphere Discuss.,, in review, 2016.
Gonçalo Vieira et al.
Gonçalo Vieira et al.


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Short summary
The Toubkal is the highest massif in North Africa (4,167 m). Landforms and deposits above 3,000 m show the effects of frost action in the present-day geomorphological dynamics, but data on ground temperatures was lacking. In this study ground surface temperature data measured across an altitudinal transect is presented and analysed for the first time. The highlight is the probable occurrence of permafrost at an elevation of 3,800 m, which may be of ecological and hydrological significance.
The Toubkal is the highest massif in North Africa (4,167 m). Landforms and deposits above...