Hot and Getting Hotter: Why the Urban Heat Island Effect Matters

If you live in a densely populated area, you have probably heard of the urban heat island effect. This localized warming of cities affects many aspects of life, and most aren’t healthy for the Earth or for humanity.

Thankfully, there are ways that we can reduce the effect of urban heat islands.

Photo: Unsplash

What Is an Urban Heat Island?

Before you can understand the urban heat island effect, you must first learn about what a heat island is in the first place.

As the name implies, urban heat islands occur in urban areas. Cities have a dense population of people and buildings, and they lack vegetation. Because of this, they tend to hold in heat more than the rural areas surrounding them.

In fact, New York City is normally around seven degrees Fahrenheit warmer than surrounding rural areas in the summer.

It occurs for several reasons, and one of them being that more people results in more energy usage. The more people using cars, air conditioning, and other electronics, the more residual heat radiating from one area. Even people exercising will give off heat.

All of the buildings in cities prevent this heat from escaping into the cool atmosphere. Instead, it stays closer to the ground and keeps the area warmer, even at night.

Plants do a great job cooling areas down and absorbing pollution, but most large cities don’t have enough plants to make a difference.

Long-Term Effects

Warmer temperatures in cities may not sound like a big deal, but they’re actually detrimental to both the planet and humanity.

Because the urban heat island effect traps heat in cities, it only causes people to use more energy. Hot temperatures mean more running air conditioners, and this puts off more heat. Not to mention, this uses more resources and emits more pollutants.

Because cities consist mainly of asphalt, concrete, and steel, water simply becomes runoff. The hot ground heats the water, which eventually enters into local rivers and streams. The heated water then stresses the aquatic life and can even alter its metabolism and reproduction.

Also, rising temperatures negatively affect human health. It leads to more respiratory issues, heat exhaustion, and even death.

Urban Heat Island Solutions

Thankfully, there are methods of reducing the urban heat island effect. Some cities have already implemented efforts to be more sustainable and safe.

One way to do this is to introduce more plants to the area. That can either be by planting more trees on the streets or creating green roofs. You can even make a difference by adding more trees and other vegetation to your home and yard.

Some cities have also created cool roofs and pavements. All this means is that they add a coating to roofs and pavements that reflects more sunlight and promotes water evaporation. You can help by using light-colored roofs and building materials because they reflect sunlight better than dark colors.

You Can Help Reduce the Urban Heat Island Effect

Given the very nature of urban areas, it may not be realistic to say that we can avoid the issue altogether, but making our cities sustainable can help.

We can reduce the urban heat island effect by making changes in our own homes and being an active participant in our communities.

If we show how important it is to us to be sustainable as a community, the city can then take steps to move forward. That is better for both the Earth and ourselves.

What are your thoughts on reducing this effect? Let us know in the comments!

Author: Shannon Minnis