Backyard Talk

Urban Heat Island Effect

By: Lauren Maranto
Have you ever noticed that when you leave the city, the air feels more fresh and cool? It’s  no surprise these days that the air is filled with pollution; We see cars and trucks everywhere, releasing greenhouse gasses and toxic fumes into the atmosphere, while fuel is burned in factories and residential areas. That being said, what many people don’t think of when they imagine air pollution is a phenomenon called the Urban Heat Island Effect.
Urban Heat Islands (UHI) are urban areas that have higher average temperatures than their surrounding rural areas due to the reduction of greenspaces and higher prevalence of impermeable and dark surfaces such as pavement. These dark spaces, along with heat absorbent building materials, absorb solar radiation and trap more heat surrounding the urban area, increasing the average temperature. Additionally, heat from industrial processes and human activities (driving a car, heating your home, etc.) is constantly released into the city, further contributing to UHI. Nighttime temperatures remain higher as the trapped heat is slowly released from buildings.
So, why does this matter? UHI not only creates an uncomfortable heat blanket over the city, it also contributes to air pollution and increased greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to human health issues and climate change. The high temperatures during the summer cause people to increase their air conditioning use, which burns more fuels and releases greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. It also encourages more people to drive to work to avoid the heat, which increases emissions from cars. The best way to reduce UHI is by promoting green spaces in cities and decreasing our energy use. By decreasing the burning of fuels, we can simultaneously reduce the heat emitted in the process while also decreasing air pollution and the negative health and environmental implications that come along with it. By increasing green space, the plants will help regulate air temperatures while also cleaning up the air by absorbing CO2.