Inhabitat

What are Microclimates, and Why are They Beneficial?

by , 07/01/14

Are there really places on the earth where the elements magically combine to provide idyllic climates? Although the concept might seem a bit fantastical, microclimates do indeed exist, and are far more common than you might have realized. In fact, there might be one of these hot or cool spots just around the corner from where you are right now! From warm areas in gardens where vegetables can be grown late into the winter, to a neighborhood block that’s cool in summertime because of surrounding buildings, countless microclimates exist all over the world, and people have been harnessing (and enjoying) the benefits of these places for centuries.


What is a Microclimate?

The simple answer is that it’s a place that has a different climate to the surrounding areas due to unique geography, solar, and wind exposure. Many different factors come into play to create a microclimate, which can be as small as a few square feet, or stretching for several miles. When creating gardens, for example, people are encouraged to observe their properties so that plants can be placed to take maximum advantage of these microclimates: an area that’s raised a bit higher than the rest of the yard and receives the most sun may have soil that’s several degrees higher than the rest of the garden; so much so that it can even pop itself into the next-warmest growing zone.

Architects also take great care when observing microclimates, as locations and their surrounding areas can make a huge impact on living conditions. Proximity to seas, lakes and rivers can create cooling effects in their local regions, which is ideal for those who live in warmer climates. Conversely, other microclimates are significantly warmer than surrounding areas, and it’s these places that will be used as examples in this article.

The Sun-Drenched Mountain Resort of Leysin

At over 1200 metres above sea level lies the beautiful Swiss mountain village of Leysin. Built on a south-facing slope, this picturesque resort is blessed with both higher-than-average temperatures for the region, and an extraordinary amount of sunshine per year. Buildings there have been constructed to take full advantage of passive solar heat and light, and the warm, sunny weather here has been beneficial to people’s health for centuries.

Between 1903 and 1954 the village was famous throughout Europe as a Sun Clinic run by pioneering heliotherapist Dr. Auguste Rollier: he treated thousands of tuberculosis patients successfully there by ensuring they had plenty of exposure to pure alpine air and abundant sunshine.

Menton: Perfect Climate on the Cote D’azur

Nestled by the Mediterranean sea at the foot of the Alpine Mountains, Menton is officially the warmest place in France, and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country. Known as “the pearl of France” in reference to its beauty, this region has been inhabited for tens of thousands of years, and it’s easy to see why: with its balmy climate, abundant seafood and fruit trees, it’s a little spot of paradise on the French Riviera.

The mountains are to the north, and provide substantial protection from the cold northern winds, while the mild currents from the Mediterranean Sea help to maintain a temperate climate; the average daily temperature there is 68 degrees Fahrenheit (or 20 degrees Celsius). The town itself faces almost directly south, giving it exceptional sun exposure: Menton has an average of 331 days of sunshine per year, making it an absolutely ideal place to visit year-round.

The Curious Microclimates of San Francisco

The San Francisco Bay area experiences many different climates in the space of just a few miles, thanks to the varied land topography that influences the circulation of the marine air. Temperatures in that city can vary by as much as 9 degrees F (or 5 degrees C) between blocks, so residents could very easily experience several different mini-climates during a simple walk around the neighborhood. (In fact, there’s even an app for San Fran residents to find and check out the various climates around them.)

Places that have abundant sunshine and warm, beneficial microclimates are ideal places to live, but advantage can be taken of any microclimate in your vicinity. Do some research to find out if there are any in your area, even in your own backyard: a spot on your home that gets sun year-round is an ideal place for a solar panel (or getting some much-needed sunshine during the winter months), for example. Microclimates appear all over the world, and they provide wonderful opportunities for us to experience the best environments that nature has to offer.

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