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Microclimate

Microclimate data can be collected in any location, including the school grounds. This makes it a simple fieldwork investigation to carry out.

The lists below give you an idea of some of the ways that data collected within a microclimate investigation can be used.

  • To investigate microclimatic data at a small scale, within a school grounds, or large scale, for example an urban transect passing from green-belt through a variety of city environments
  • To investigate the abiotic conditions of different parts of a particular ecosystem
  • To investigate diurnal or seasonal changes in the microclimate
  • To investigate the influence of microclimate on something, for example the distribution of a particular species of plant or vegetation cover
  • To compare different locations
  • To investigate the affect of topography on microclimates
  • To investigate the impact of human interference, or features of the built environment on the microclimates of different locations
  • To investigate the most suitable location for something
  • To link with and incorporate into ecosystem investigations
  • To link with other data, for example soil analysis, invertebrate data

Microclimates: Why not try...?

  • The old classic - the most suitable site for...
  • Assessing the possible impacts of a new building on microclimates, for example the building of a new science block
  • Asking a question, for example why is site x so popular with sunbathers? Do the buildings at site y create wind tunnels (known as the venturi effect)?
  • How much does vegetation cover affect microclimatic conditions? Different types, densities or ages of vegetation communities could be investigated
  • How do microclimates affect people's activities or their perceptions of place? For example questionnaires to investigate how pupils view and use different areas in the school grounds
  • How does proximity to water affect microclimates
  • How large or wide an area of microclimate is affected by buildings
  • During a heat wave - how much more extreme are the microclimates of urban areas
  • Considering hedgerows as microclimates - how do they affect local conditions and what might be the ecological impact of their removal? You could link this with ecosystem data

Dots

Wind speed and direction

Equipment

  • Weather vane
  • Anemometer or Ventimeter
  • Compass
  • Beaufort scale
  • Record sheets

Figure one: Three types of wind speed/direction monitoring equipment - of varying degrees of technological sophisticationFigure 1: Three types of wind speed/direction monitoring equipment, of varying degrees of technological sophistication. Photo credit Alex Segre.

Methodology

  1. A compass should be used to determine North
  2. Wind direction ‘apparatus' can be improvised using a home made wind sock or weather vane. The weather vane should be placed in the exact location to be investigated, and the variable, for example height above ground kept constant at each site
  3. The Beaufort scale can be used to give a crude, qualitative judgement of wind speed by observing evidence around the site. Further information about the Beaufort Scale can be found on the Met Office website and a pictorial guide on the Howtoons website
  4. An anemometer can give a more accurate reading, and will work in very low wind conditions, but is expensive. A ventimeter is cheaper but is not as reliable or as accurate in low wind conditions
  5. Readings should be recorded at each location

Considerations: Limitations and validity

  • Very high or low wind speeds can be difficult to measure
  • Wind strength is hard to measure at ground level
  • The Beaufort scale is subjective. You need to consider that the observations are likely to come from around the site, rather than at the exact location. Is it therefore an accurate method for a micro-climate assessment?
  • Taking several readings and finding the average can increase validity of results

Dots

Temperature, relative humidity and light levels

Equipment

  • Thermometer
  • (Whirling) hygrometer/psychrometer
  • Light meter
  • Record sheet 

Figure two: Using a light meter to record light levelsFigure 2: Using a light meter to record light levels. Photo credit Alex Segre.

Methodology

  • Different instruments operate differently and the instructions should be referred to for each
  • The whirling hygrometer or psychrometer should be held above the head for a set period of time, for example one minute and readings are then taken from the wet and dry bulbs. It is the difference between these two readings which informs relative humidity
  • Digital thermometers are reliable and precise but may not be if poorly calibrated or the batteries run low (always check the batteries)
  • Whether using a digital or analogue thermometer, recordings should be taken at the same height above ground at each site, for example one metre
  • Digital light meters are again more accurate, but the same applies as for all digital equipment in terms of calibration and battery life

Considerations: Limitations and validity

  • A sampling method should be decided upon to ascertain the method for data collection, for example the locations to sample, the timings and frequency of recordings
  • Some account should be taken of the fact that recordings will inevitably be taken at different times in different locations - while cloud cover can change from one moment to the next, affecting temperature and light readings
  • Allow for some margin of error in using the instruments - different products vary in accuracy and performance
  • If using an analogue thermometer breakage is a health and safety consideration. Also, readings may be affected by direct sunlight, or hand-heat. Ground temperatures are more extreme, so readings should not be taken directly on the ground
  • Cloud cover at the time of taking measurements could be recorded to help explain anomalies in data. Cloud cover is estimated in Oktas which refers to how many eighths of the sky are covered by cloud, using the following scale:
    • Clear sky
    • 1 okta
    • 2 oktas
    • 3 oktas
    • 4 oktas
    • 5 oktas
    • 6 oktas
    • 7 oktas
    • Overcast

Cloud type could also be recorded, as this affects light intensity.

Dots

Precipitation

Equipment

  • Rain gauge
  • Record sheets

Figure 3: Setting up a rain gauge

Figure three: Setting up a rain gauge. Photo credit Alex Segre.

Methodology

  1. Home made gauges can be used - Ensure the same ones are used to ensure a fair test
  2. Gauges should be set up in the desired locations
  3. Records should be kept of anything at each site which may affect readings, for example shelter from buildings or vegetation cover
  4. Leave gauges for a predetermined period of time at each location
  5. For remote locations, bucket-siphon rain gauges can be used to take measurements which empty themselves daily

Considerations: Limitations and validity

  • Consider the accessibility of the site, is it local or remote. Which is better
  • Time factor, checking every day
  • Practicality of checking all gauges at the same time
  • Affect of vegetation, interception of rain or buildings providing shelter, these should be noted, but may be interesting variables to investigate in their own right
  • Evaporation, some open gauges allow evaporation which will affect readings
  • Rain splash, gauges flush with the ground level may be affected by rain splash, therefore over estimating precipitation
  • Also, extremely heavy rain may cause excess runoff (especially from some surfaces) which may run into flush rain gauges
  • Rain gauges raised above ground level may underestimate precipitation as rain may be funnelled around the gauge

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