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How Vegetation Affects Urban Heat Islands


UCR Scientist to Explore How Vegetation Affects Urban Heat Islands

Collaborative project with Arizona State University researchers examines urban residents’ vulnerability to heat

(October 27, 2008)

Darrel Jenerette is assistant professor in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences.Enlarge

Darrel Jenerette is assistant professor in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Darrel Jenerette, a landscape ecologist at UC Riverside, is on a team led by Arizona State University researchers that will be investigating human vulnerability to deadly heat exposure.

The three-year project will examine how variation in the “urban heat island” – a metropolitan area that is much warmer than its surrounding areas – impacts human comfort and health risks, as well as how human decisions lead to this variation.

Jenerette, an assistant professor in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, will investigate the moderating effects of vegetation on urban heat islands.

“I will be researching the potential for plants to reduce summer extreme temperatures in the urban heat island of the Phoenix, Ariz., metropolitan region,” Jenerette said. “High temperature events injure and kill many people every year and there is the potential for heat exposures to increase with the combination of urban heat islands and global climate changes.”

Arizona State University’s Sharon Harlan, who is leading the team, noted that people in cities are in double jeopardy due to urban heat islands and global climate change – factors that are increasing and intensifying as they interact.

“With the mounting effects of climate change and half the world’s population now living in urban areas – one-third of the people in slums – the potential for the increasing frequency and severity of heat waves is cause for grave concern,” she said.

According to Jenerette, the research team also will look at the trade-off between water use and how it affects local climate and spatial components (for e.g., the proximity of trees and parks to homes; green pathways for pedestrian movement).

“How does one tree incrementally affect its immediate environment – a yard, a neighborhood, all the way up to the entire region?” he said. “Much of the cooling associated with vegetation comes at a cost for water. With increased restrictions on water throughout the southwestern United States, understanding the consequences of water allocation is essential for making appropriate decisions.”

The researchers will seek answers to guide policymakers and planners in bolstering protective measures to prevent heat-related illness and deaths. They also will examine how global environmental change combines with local conditions to affect human vulnerability to climate change.

More than a dozen researchers working in nearly as many scientific disciplines and subdisciplines are involved in the project.

The team will share its findings locally and nationally with city planners and health agencies and provide data to public health officials responsible for developing early warning systems and heat-illness prevention programs.

Jenerette, who received $135,000 of the $1.4 million grant that the National Science Foundation awarded to the researchers, joined UCR in January 2008.

The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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