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What Is a Microclimate?

Hidden valleys and cave complexes often support microclimates.
The shading of a garden can be arranged to protect specifc flower breeds.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 16 August 2014
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A microclimate is a small but distinctly different climate within a larger area. For example, in a garden, a spot that is sunny and protected from the wind will be significantly warmer than the rest of the garden for most of the year. In this case, the microclimate would be extremely small, but they can also get much larger; valleys and hills classically have their own climates, due to a variety of factors that cause their weather to be different from the more general weather in the region.

Microclimates are often a topic of interest for gardeners and architects, because learning to work with this type of area can be very important. For example, an architect who thinks about the specific climate at a home site can set up a house that will be more energy efficient by taking advantage of the natural features to keep the home cool in the summer and warm in the winter, rather than building a house which will fight with the land. Gardeners can use such areas to grow plants that are not supposed to grow in the regions they live, and to landscape in a way that will make an efficient use of water.

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Biologists often have an interest in microclimates as well, because they can sometimes sustain unique or unusual species in an area where these species are not normally found. Unusual plants often find environments to thrive in, sometimes causing a double-take as people identify ones that are not normally present in a particular area.

The conditions in such locations are affected by a number of factors. The slope of the land can be important, as is the direction in which the slope faces. The amount of shade, wind, exposure, and drainage will also all impact the conditions, as can things like a nearby body of water or the presence of an urban area. Urban areas are notorious for being much warmer than the surrounding open land, because the buildings, sidewalks, and pavements reflect heat.

It can take some time to recognize microclimates in an area, especially for people who are new to the region. Usually, at least a year or two will be needed to identify an area of a garden or neighborhood as having a distinct climate, although people can sometimes get help from neighbors. It is not uncommon for different sides of a street to have markedly different ones, for example, or for some neighborhoods to be warmer or cooler than others.

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anon302529
Post 6

I had to work on this for my geography project and it helped a lot!

fify
Post 3

I just studied this for my online course exam! The most interesting, and somewhat alarming fact that I learned is that urban microclimates are warmer than rural because there is so much human pollution in cities. The pollution from heating, transportation, factories causes something like a greenhouse effect. They actually call cities with dense buildings and high population "heat islands." I can just imagine cities already in warm climates becoming unbearably hot in the next fifty years or so. Especially considering population and pollution increase in the world in general. I think heat in humid cities also causes a lot of fog too. My friend from Mexico city once told me that the city is always hazy because of the heat and pollution.

candyquilt
Post 2

I live in a small town and we have 2-3 different microclimates here. We actually moved here 5-6 years ago and I just couldn't understand why all the locals moved from their houses near the beach to different houses just 5 minutes away in the town center during the winter months. We live near the beach year around, where there is a lot of strong wind because there is nothing to block it. The town center is at a lower elevation and is surrounded by hills. We drove down there the other day and literally had to take our coats off because it was at least 5 or 6 degrees warmer than our neighborhood near the beach. Now I know why the locals have two houses, it's because of the different microclimates.

minombre
Post 1

One can create his/her own microclimate on one's land. For instance a pond will moderate temperature, a hedge will control wind, and plantings of vine will shade and protect young plants.

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