Fine scale mapping, modeling and quantification of thermal habitat in rocky shore ecosystems

How hot is the rocky shore?

During low tide, organisms inhabiting rocky shores are often exposed to high temperatures. But how much is too much? And is Climate Change making extreme events more common? NORTEROCKS is all about answering these questions with unprecedented detail.

What we'll do

Map rocky shores

Rocky shores are complex. While some rocks never get covered by water, others only become exposed to terrestrial conditions during low tide. Then there are tide pools, crevices, ridges and a myriad of small-scale features. And because most intertidal organisms are quite small, even the smallest shade can cool organisms by up to 10 °C!

This means that describing temperature patterns in rocky shores requires deep knowledge about their 3D structure - the micro-topography. Thus, our first task was to assemble a high resolution (7-10 cm) digital elevation model (DEM) covering all rocks exposed during low tide along 150 kms of rocky shores in northern Portugal.

The high res DEM of all rocks in N Portugal is already available and can be shared upon request


Model body temperatures

Next, we need to be able to estimate the body temperature of all organisms in the study area at any given moment. For that we will use a land-surface model (LSM). LSMs take weather data and output downscaled estimates of surface temperature. However, LSMs were originally developed for forest ecosystems. Thus, in this task we will introduce modifications to NCAR's LSM for use in extremely complex intertidal ecosystems.

The optimization of the LSM is underway, and when ready it will allow for the estimation of body temperatures in all facets of our DEM


Measure rock temperatures

But before the temperature estimates obtained with the LSM can be used, those estimates must be validated against real data. Since the required dataset does not currently exists, we will deploy a vast network of temperature loggers on sun-exposed and shaded microhabitats along the entire study area. With over a thousand loggers deployed, we will be able to characterize the extremes of thermal exposure with unprecedented detail.

We share all temperature data collected: check the list of sites below and send us a data request

Max Temp
Min Temp

Map microhabitat patterns

Finally, using the optimized LSM, environmental reanalysis data (ECMWF’s ERA5) will be transformed into hourly temperature profiles for all facets of the DEM, from today to as far back as 1979!

After analyzing this new, game-changing dataset, we will be able to say how the spatial distribution of cool microhabitats has been changing in Northern Portugal over the past decades.

Study area

NW Iberia

From Finisterra to Peniche, we are deploying a vast network of sensors, which provide hourly, high-resolution temperature data from sun-exposed and shaded intertidal microhabitats. Check the link below for the list of sites and additional details. We welcome data requests.


List of sites

Rui Seabra
Project Leader
Fernando Lima
Project Co-Leader

Our team

We are a multidisciplinary team of biologists and engineers, with an extensive network of international collaborators, studying thermal stress in intertidal ecosystems all over the world,

Bruno Loureiro
Luis Pereira
Manuel Carvalho
Catarina Queiroga
Cátia Monteiro
Francisco Arenas
Brian Helmuth
Funded by

Total eligible funding: 219.868,46 €

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In partnership with

A shared experience

Looking for some fieldwork experience, an enriching school field visit or just a fun family activity in the intertidal? Reach out and we'll try to make it happen!