Battling the Urban Heat Island Effect

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You might consider urban areas to be the epitome of cool, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. If you’re a city dweller, you’ve probably found yourself stranded on an urban heat island, and you didn’t even know it.

The heat island effect is a term that refers to higher temperatures and air pollution in urban areas, which is caused by the structures within the urban areas themselves. Urban areas are much warmer than surrounding rural areas and can be viewed as lonely islands filled with oppressive heat and extreme pollution.

Many are worried that the urban heat island effect will be exacerbated by Climate Change in the coming years, especially if little is done to expand green spaces. Studies are showing that cities are experiencing more days above 90 degrees Fahrenheit and some populations are at higher risk of heat related deaths.

Buildings, concrete, lack of soil — all these things contribute to the heat island effect. As it turns out, having a city literally go green by planting more trees is one of the best ways to combat the harmful environmental effects. Introducing more vegetation, like trees, into urban environments helps with everything from basic shade refuge to cleaner air to the reduction of energy costs.

One of the simplest ways trees in urban areas can help diminish heat is shade. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that shaded areas can be up to 20-45 degrees cooler than areas that lack shade. The extreme temperature discrepancy between shaded and non-shaded areas plays a huge part in the need for higher energy costs. Strategically planting trees around non-shaded buildings helps reduce the need for air conditioning. Lower energy costs also means fewer pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions, so shade plays a role in maintaining healthy air quality in addition to keeping people cool.

Aside from shade and cooler temperatures, trees offer other ways to help clear the air of pollutants often found in abundance in urban areas. Trees absorb harmful pollutants like nitrogen oxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide, while simultaneously releasing oxygen into the environment.

Want to help reduce the heat island effect in your city? Get involved with your parks department or a local business and encourage them to plant more trees along the streets, in parks and near buildings. Or, if you have the room on your property, plant a tree! Be sure to choose a native species that will do well in the environment you are in. Also consider the mature size of the tree and its location (be sure not to plant directly under a power-line or too close to one). Get involved and make a difference in the lives of people in your community!

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