Climate Change Daily Repost

Modeling microclimate change

Climate change often focuses on regional to global-scale issues. Issues like global warming and rising sea levels affect countries and people around the world. However, regional climatic conditions mask a wide variation in how local communities experience climate change. A regional focus matters, but microclimate changes often exert the most influence on local communities and businesses. However, the way regional climate change affects microclimates is often poorly understood.

Adjustments are already in progress, though. Winemakers are eyeing the best terroirs for future vineyards and buying up the land. So think of terroir as a unique set of local environmental factors that determine how a wine tastes. A range of factors including soil type, temperatures, rain patterns, slope angles, amount of sunlight, and more go into defining the right microclimate for a particular vineyard. Predicting future climatic conditions and then adapting is a vital part of sustaining the business for these farmers and winemakers.

In the Sundarbans on the Bengal delta, subsistence farmers are switching to native rice varieties. They don’t do this because the native rice brings in more money. Instead, they act out of necessity since the more profitable high-yield rice no longer grows in the higher-salinity waters from rising sea levels. Climate change at the scale of local farms matters to those who live there.


Weather and climatic conditions that regularly differ from the regional trend define a microclimate. But, the factors that distinguish any microclimate represent a complex set of environmental factors.  Therefore, each microclimate results from a unique intersection of the geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere.

I visited the botanical gardens on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls several years ago. I marveled at the microclimate created by the falls.  Very local climatic conditions allowed for the growth of plants not seen anywhere else in the region. 

I also enjoyed seeing a flourishing wine industry along the 90 to 150 foot high Niagara escarpment that runs northwestward from the falls.  A combination of the escarpment slopes, Lake Ontario, and Lake Erie creates a series of microclimates, each with its particular conditions of temperature and airflow. 

The Niagara wine country then benifits from a fortuitous intersection between the atmosphere, two large bodies of water, and a “ridge” created by the local geology. These factors keep the Niagra microclimate cooler than the surrounding areas in the summer and warmer in the winter. Excellent soil and good climate make for fine wines. 

Predicting microclimate change

Work is underway at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) to provide data for small farm operations around the world. Since climate modeling is complex, caution is needed when interpreting the results. Modelers often use the phrase “garbage in, garbage out.” This phrase references the fact that even the most sophisticated modeling software will yield useless results if the data you feed it is inaccurate. Quality data and accurate modeling then become two sides of the same coin.

Regional modeling of climate change produces projections and predictions for the future over large areas. Accordingly, a single forecast may cover an area up to 200 miles in width. A winemaker searching for the right terroir will not be impressed with this scale of modeling. Small agriculture needs modeling at the microclimate scale.

Data sets such as the one CIAT uses, focus on providing policymakers with reliable tools for modeling microclimate change. Helping small farms adapt to changing climatic conditions is a critical part of future food security.  Regional models are helpful but don’t provide sufficient detail for local farmers. Current climate modeling work focuses on developing higher resolution models utilizing a process known as downscaling. The results of this process then allow policymakers to think and plan at a local scale.

High-quality data and high-resolution models are the only way to predict the future for microclimates. These models can help predict climate trends and assist policymakers and farmers in preparing for the future.


Climate change at the margins (Source: ArcheanWeb) –  Also:


CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security – Also:

Want to know what climate change will do in your backyard? There’s a dataset for that (By International Center for Tropical Agriculture) – Also:

Feature Image: Hills and vineyards, Roquebrun (By Christian Ferrer) (Modified) – This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. –

William House
William is an earth scientist and writer with an interest in providing the science "backstory" for breaking environmental, earth science, and climate change news.