Microclimate: Definition, Factors & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is a Microclimate?
  • 1:16 Factors that Cause…
  • 2:39 Examples of Microclimates
  • 4:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Wendy McDougal

Wendy has taught high school Biology and has a master's degree in education.

A microclimate is a smaller area within a general climate zone that has its own unique climate. Learn more about microclimates, and see some examples.

What Is a Microclimate?

The climate of an area or region is dependent on a multitude of factors. Some of these include geographic location, elevation, latitude, and topography. We know that in the U.S., cities located on the coast of the Pacific Ocean tend to have fairly temperate climates. Areas in the desert Southwest are very dry and hot, and the Midwest experiences many extremes. So with a basic knowledge of the climate in which we live, we can prepare accordingly and go about our business.

However, it's not always that simple. In a particular area or city, there can be a myriad of smaller climates within the larger climate zone. For example, have you ever been driving around town in the rain on a winter day, only to drive up a hill and find snowflakes? Or perhaps you've headed from the country to the city on a warm summer day only to find blistering temperatures on the asphalt streets. These smaller climates-within-a-climate are aptly named microclimates, micro meaning small, and we've probably all experienced them from time to time. In this lesson, we'll learn more about the features that cause microclimates and gain a better understanding of where they are found.

Factors that Cause Microclimates

Before we delve further into the topic of microclimates, let's be sure we have a solid understanding of what climate is in the first place. When you think of climate, you might think of the weather forecast that you checked this morning before you left the house. However, weather and climate aren't the same thing. Weather is the change in the atmospheric state over a short period of time, and climate measures the atmospheric state over long periods of time. In essence, climate is a general idea of what consistently happens in the atmosphere in a particular region.

So, if there are general climate zones, why do we find these pockets of extreme differences within a climate? The answer lies in local features that vary within a region. Natural landforms, such as hills and mountains, can cause microclimates due to elevation changes. Areas near bodies of water often see microclimates due to the fact that water is slower to warm and cool, thus making conditions more mild.

Sun exposure in an area is another factor, especially when it comes to hillsides and mountains. South-facing slopes receive more direct sun than those that are north-facing, and this can create entirely different landscapes as a result. In addition, man-made factors, such as asphalt and concrete in a city setting, can cause microclimate conditions as heat is absorbed and trapped.

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