A wind-tunnel experiment was designed and carried out to study the effect of a surface roughness transition on subfilter-scale (SFS) physics in a turbulent boundary layer. Specifically, subfilter-scale stresses are evaluated that require parameterizations and are key to improving the accuracy of large-eddy simulations of the atmospheric boundary layer. The surface transition considered in this study consists of a sharp change from a rough, wire-mesh covered surface to a smooth surface. The resulting magnitude jump in aerodynamic roughnesses, M = ln(z(01)/z(02)), where z(01) and z(02) are the upwind and downwind aerodynamic surface roughnesses respectively, is similar to that of past experimental studies in the atmospheric boundary layer. The two-dimensional velocity fields used in this study are measured using particle image velocimetry and are acquired at several positions downwind of the roughness transition as well as over a homogeneous smooth surface. Results show that the SFS stress, resolved strain rate and SFS transfer rate of resolved kinetic energy are dependent on the position within the boundary layer relative to the surface roughness transition. A mismatch is found in the downwind trend of the SFS stress and resolved strain rate with distance from the transition. This difference of behaviour may not be captured by some eddy-viscosity type models that parameterize the SFS stress tensor as proportional to the resolved strain rate tensor. These results can be used as a benchmark to test the ability of existing and new SFS models to capture the spatial variability SFS physics associated with surface roughness heterogeneities.