Session 14: Human dimensions of urban heat islands



Extreme heat events are among the leading weather-related causes of illness and death in cities across the globe. Continued urbanization will place more people in microclimates modified by the built environment; often temperatures in these settings are higher because of the urban heat island effect. This trend, combined with the threat of a warmer future and an increasingly aging population, makes it possible that heat-related health risks will increase in the future. Public officials are beginning to make investments in various intervention strategies to minimize the health burden associated with extreme heat events.

This session featured research examining the effects of heat within urban areas. The spatial and temporal dimensions of heat-related health risks within cities are only beginning to be fully understood. Challenges facing the research community include: spatial variation in mortality and morbidity associated with extreme heat; intra-seasonal variability (of health outcomes, climate conditions or extreme heat events); the relative impact of social versus environmental factors in contributing to vulnerability; short- and long-population acclimatization; identification of optimal exposure variables; identification of optimal outcome variables (total deaths, years of life lost, displacement-adjusted mortality, etc.); evaluating the effectiveness of intervention strategies including heat warning systems; the contribution of indoor versus outdoor exposure to risk; and quantifying, qualifying, or respond to heat vulnerability.

Keywords: extreme heat, health, urban, risk, climate change, urban heat island



The content of the studies presented work well in North American and European cities, where there is a wealth of information and data. However, the majority of future urban growth will occur in Asia and Africa, where there are serious issues with the availability and quality of data.  Such issues cannot be resolved easily.  Are the methodologies of these studies easily transferable to an Asian context?  Logistical issues and the lack of cooperation and data make obtaining results very difficult.

Crowd sourcing as a source of local data, especially the use of cellphones and online technology to take measurements of local climate, is an important tool for future research.  Local data collection can be problematic, both in terms of the cost of the data (remote sensing images and the monitoring devices themselves) and being able to handle the collection devices without incident. 

Cities need to do a better job of incorporating urban heat island (UHI) into policy decisions regarding the development of urban form.  Every city is unique and local research is key to developing strategies for dealing with UHI, especially in locations where UHI can be severe, e.g., Phoenix, Arizona, USA.



Wen-Ching Chuang – Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA

David Hondula – Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA

Matthias Ruth – Northeastern University, Boston, MA, USA


Felix Creutzig, Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, Berlin, Germany

Presentation Title: Urban heat risks, health and equity

Onur Özgün & Matthias Ruth, Northeastern University, Boston, MA, USA

Presentation Title: Modeling the feedbacks between socio-economic changes and Urban Heat Island (UHI)

Wen-Ching Chuang, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA

Presentation Title: Critical perspectives on vulnerability assessment: Case studies of heat stress in Phoenix, AZ

David Hondula, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA

Presentation Title: Challenges associated with projecting urbanization-induced heat-related mortality

Aaron Hardin, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX, USA

Presentation Title: Assessment of localized urban climates and associations with air pollution and synoptic weather patterns


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