Topoclimatological case-study of Alpine pastures near the Albula Pass in the eastern Swiss Alps
Alpine grasslands are an important source of fodder for the cattle of Alpine farmers. Only during the short summer season can these pastures be used for grazing. With the anticipated climate change, it is likely that plant production – and thus the fodder basis for the cattle – will be influenced. Investigating the dependence of biomass production on topoclimatic factors will allow us to better understand how anticipated climate change may influence this traditional Alpine farming system. Because small-scale topoclimatological variations of the main meteorological variables: temperature, humidity, precipitation, shortwave incoming radiation and wind speed are not easily derived from available long-term climate stations in mountainous terrain, it was our goal to investigate the topoclimatic variations over the pastures belonging to the Alp Weissenstein research station north of the Albula Pass in the eastern Swiss Alps. We present a basic assessment of current topoclimatic conditions as a site characterization for ongoing ecological climate change studies. To be able to link short-term studies with long-term climate records, we related agrometeorological measurements with those of surrounding long-term sites run by MeteoSwiss, both on valley bottoms (Davos, Samedan), and on mountain tops (Weissfluhjoch, Piz Corvatsch). We found that the Davos climate station north of the study area is most closely correlated with the local climate of Alp Weissenstein, although a much closer site (Samedan) exists on the other side of the Albula Pass. Mountain top stations, however, did not provide a convincing approximation for the climate at Alp Weissenstein. Direct comparisons of near-surface measurements from a set of 11 small weather stations distributed over the domain where cattle and sheep are grazed indicate that nocturnal minimum air temperature and minimum vapor pressure deficit are mostly governed by the altitudinal gradient, whereas daily maxima – including also wind speed – are more strongly depending on vegetation cover and less on the altitude.