I do not often get the opportunity to see the effects of topography on microclimate as clearly as this time (only here!). I am studying its nature and impact on the vegetation, but knowledge on the microclimate is mostly based on measurements, as it is seldom possible to see it with unaided eyes.
Now, a thin layer of snow revealed the patterns I knew that had always been there.
It was on a freezing cold winter day in Flanders’ one and only national park: the Hoge Kempen. This nature reserve on poor stony soils from the last Ice Age shelters heathlands and forests on nice sloping hills, with a much more interesting topography than I am used to from my hometown.
We were there on a true winter day, after a night with a few centimeters of snow. Temperatures never peaked high above zero degrees celsius, but there was a little watery sun piercing through the high clouds, with just enough power to initiate a thawing process on the spots it could reach.
Those conditions, with the cold sun low on the horizon, were ideal to generate beautiful patterns of partial snowmelt, with circumstances on south-facing slopes feeling like a day in early spring, while north-facing slopes and forest floors breathed the atmosphere of the depths of winter.
The hot spots light up as coloured zones in an otherwise black and white environment. No other measurement devices needed to see where the heat concentrates: just admire how the differences between south- and north facing slopes, or between path and vegetation stand out.