CAP LTER instrumental in advancing Urban Heat Island research

Network News Spring 2012, Vol. 25 No. 2
Network News

Summer heat is no surprise in the Sonoran Desert, but urban temperatures in the Phoenix metropolitan area can exceed those of the surrounding desert, a phenomenon known as the urban heat island (UHI) effect. An interdisciplinary group of the Central Arizona-Phoenix (CAP) LTER researchers has been instrumental in studying the UHI effect in Phoenix, creating a substantial and influential body of research, which is detailed in a recent article in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

The article’s authors, CAP researchers Winston Chow and Anthony Brazel, with their colleague Dean Brennan from the City of Phoenix Planning Department, note that peer-reviewed research on the Phoenix UHI (55 articles by mid-2011) significantly exceeds that on other major American metropolitan areas, such as New York, Houston, and Los Angeles.

They identify three factors that have influenced the flourishing of UHI research in Phoenix: partnerships between the academic community and private sector agencies, a well-developed and extensive urban meteorological station network, and strong local media coverage on the UHI phenomenon. Regarding the former, the authors point to the importance of interdisciplinary research within CAP LTER in sharing the results of UHI research and integrating scientific and social science inquiry in urban meteorology and climatology. UHI research in the Phoenix area has matured over time from inductive “pure” research to deductive, interdisciplinary, applied research, which sets a standard for UHI research worldwide.

In their article, Chow, Brennan, and Brazel examined some of the applications of UHI research to mitigation, such as plans developed by the Phoenix Tree and Shade Task Force and later adopted by the City of Phoenix.

Finally, they indicated future directions for UHI work, including cost-benefit analyses of UHI mitigation and more efforts at translating UHI science for K-12 education through programs like CAP’s Ecology Explorers program.