Air pollution prevention through urban heat island mitigation: an update on the urban heat island pilot project

Urban heat islands increase the demand for cooling energy and accelerate the formation of smog. They are created when natural vegetation is replaced by heat-absorbing surfaces such as building roofs and walls, parking lots, and streets. Through the implementation of measures designed to mitigate the urban heat island, communities can decrease their demand for energy and effectively “cool” the metropolitan landscape. In addition to the economic benefits, using less energy leads to reductions in emissions of CO2 – a greenhouse gas – as well as ozone (smog) precursors such as NOx and VOCs. Because ozone is created when NOx and VOCs photochemically combine with heat and solar radiation, actions taken to lower ambient air temperature can significantly reduce ozone concentrations in certain areas. Measures to reverse the urban heat island include afforestation and the widespread use of highly reflective surfaces. To demonstrate the potential benefits of implementing these measures, EPA has teamed up with NASA and LBNL to initiate a pilot project with three U.S. cities. As part of the pilot, NASA will use remotely-sensed data to quantify surface temperature, albedo, the thermal response number and NDVI vegetation of each city. This information will be used by scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) along with other data as inputs to model various scenarios that will help quantify the potential benefits of urban heat island mitigation measures in terms of reduced energy use and pollution. This paper will briefly describe this pilot project and provide an update on the progress to date.

Publication Date: January 2002

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