By: Samantha Yurek
With the heat index well into the triple digits lately, it is only appropriate to talk about the urban heat island. A metropolitan area which is significantly warmer than its rural counterparts, the urban heat island effect creates a more brutal environment, especially during these sweltering summer days.
Cities are dense and compact places. Most surface materials in urban spaces are good at absorbing heat, and have no means to transpire. Sunlight heats up these surfaces during the daytime, to temperatures higher than the air. In addition, impervious surfaces are prominent in city landscapes.
Many issues stem from the urban heat island effect, including increased energy consumption, resulting in elevated pollution emissions, compromising human health and comfort. Also, hotter surfaces create warmer runoff, endangering the local bodies of water; rapid temperature changes can be fatal for aquatic life.
Photo Credit: Dustin Phillips
Now we understand the urban heat island phenomenon, but is it easily resolved?
Unfortunately with the amount of people residing in urban areas, the energy released will always be greater compared to rural areas. Although, there are ways to mitigate the hotter temperatures. In rural areas, temperatures are moderated through evapotranspiration, with vegetation being the main aid in cooler and healthier environments. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, "Trees, vegetation and green roofs can reduce heating and cooling energy use and associated air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, remove air pollutants, sequester and store carbon, help lower the risk of heat-related illnesses and deaths, improve stormwater control and water quality, reduce noise levels, create habitats, improve aesthetic qualities, and increase property values."
By increasing vegetation in urban areas and the surrounding commercial belts in the form of street trees and green roofs, we can help create a cooler and healthier environment for ourselves. Not to mention a much more attractive landscape.