Precipitation and temperature are primary factors that determine an ecosystem's structure and function. Secondary factors include long-term climate patterns, such as the timing, duration, and and intensity of extreme weather events (such as frosts and violent downpours), and the variance in seasonal dynamics between and among years.
These drivers greatly influence which plant species occur where, habitat suitability for wildlife, surface and subsurface hydrology, how nutrients are cycled, and the relationships between soil, plants, and water availability. They can also affect how susceptible—or resilient—an ecosystem is to disturbance. In the Sonoran Desert and Apache Highlands ecoregions, vast differences in aspect and topography make for a spatially variable climate.
Understanding broad-scale weather and climate conditions is vital to park managers. Among other uses, it can help guide activities related to fire management and habitat protection; suggest the likelihood of exotic plant invasion, the availability of surface water, and the potential occurrence of plant die-offs and recruitment events; and indicate the potential success of disturbed lands restoration actions. It can also help the Sonoran Desert Network to understand changes in other vital signs.
Methods and Measurements
To obtain this information, the network relies on The Climate Analyzer, an interactive website that allows users to create custom graphs and tables from historical and current weather-station data. For Sonoran Desert Network parks, users of The Climate Analyzer can investigate current and historical data related to the following parameters:
- air temperature
- potential evapotranspiration
- reconnaissance drought index
- water temperature
The Climate Analyzer uses climate stations from throughout the region. To address data gaps, the Sonoran Desert Network also augments existing weather station networks with automated, real-time weather stations at selected locations. All network parks have at least one climate station used by The Climate Analyzer.
For more information, contact Andy Hubbard, Program Manager, Sonoran Desert Network