Downscaling climate over complex terrain: High finescale (<1000 m) spatial variation of near-ground temperatures in a montane forested landscape (Great Smoky Mountains)

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120 Scopus citations

Abstract

Landscape-driven microclimates in mountainous terrain pose significant obstacles to predicting the response of organisms to atmospheric warming, but few if any studies have documented the extent of such finescale variation over large regions. This paper demonstrates that ground-level temperature regimes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee and North Carolina) vary considerably over fine spatial scales and are only partially linked to synoptic weather patterns and environmental lapse rates. A 120-sensor network deployed across two watersheds in 2005-06 exhibited finescale (,1000-m extent) temperature differences of over 2*C for daily minima and over 4*C for daily maxima. Landscape controls over minimum temperatures were associated with finescale patterns of soil moisture content, and maximum temperatures were associated with finescale insolation differences caused by topographic exposure and vegetation cover. By linking the sensor array data to 10 regional weather stations and topographic variables describing site radiation load and moisture content, multilevel spatial models of 30-m resolution were constructed to map daily temperatures across the 2090-km2 park, validated with an independent 50-sensor network. Maps reveal that different landscape positions do not maintain relative differences in temperature regimes across seasons. Near-stream locations are warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, and sites of low elevation more closely track synoptic weather patterns than do wetter high-elevation sites. This study suggests a strong interplay between near-ground heat and water balances and indicates that the influence of past and future shifts in regional temperatures on the park's biota may be buffered by soil moisture surfeits from high regional rainfall.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1033-1049
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology
Volume48
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 29 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science

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