A microclimate is a local atmospheric zone where the climate differs from the surrounding area. The term may refer to areas as small as a few square feet (for example a garden bed) or as large as many square miles. Microclimates exist, for example, near bodies of water which may cool the local atmosphere, or in heavily urban areas where brick, concrete, and asphalt absorb the sun's energy, heat up, and reradiate that heat to the ambient air: the resulting urban heat island is a kind of microclimate.
Another contributing factor to microclimate is the slope or aspect of an area. South-facing slopes in the Northern Hemisphere and north-facing slopes in the Southern Hemisphere are exposed to more direct sunlight than opposite slopes and are therefore warmer for longer.
The area in a developed industrial park may vary greatly from a wooded park nearby, as natural flora in parks absorb light and heat in leaves, that a building roof or parking lot just radiates back into the air. Advocates of solar energy argue that widespread use of solar collection can mitigate overheating of urban environments by absorbing sunlight and putting it to work instead of heating the foreign surface objects.
A microclimate can offer an opportunity as a small growing region for crops that cannot thrive in the broader area; this concept is often used in permaculture practiced in northern temperate climates. Microclimates can be used to the advantage of gardeners who carefully choose and position their plants. Cities often raise the average temperature by zoning, and a sheltered position can reduce the severity of winter.Roof gardening, however, exposes plants to more extreme temperatures in both summer and winter.
Tall buildings create their own microclimate, both by overshadowing large areas and by channeling strong winds to ground level. Wind effectsaround tall buildings are assessed as part of a microclimate study.
Microclimates can also refer to purpose made environments, such as those in a room or other enclosure. Microclimates are commonly created and carefully maintained in museum display and storage environments. This can be done using passive methods, such as silica gel, or with active microclimate control devices.