Land-based Strategies to Reduce Future Heat Island-related Mortality

Contributor(s): 
December 15, 2014

Urban centers have been warming at double the global rate the last half-century. High daily temperatures are associated with increased mortality. Sustained increases in temperatures projected under most climate models represent a significant public health problem that may increase weather-related mortality in the United States. In a first of its kind study, Stone et al., (2014) modeled how local climate action plans that integrate land-based mitigation strategies through albedo and vegetation enhancement can mitigate future increases in heat-related mortality. 

This article compared models of temperature and mortality increases for the year 2050 to a baseline year 2010 in the metropolitan areas of Atlanta, GA, Philadelphia, PA and Phoenix, AZ.  Various models were run to examine the effect of land-based heat management strategies for vegetation enhancement (i.e. public and/or private greening), albedo enhancement (i.e. building roofs and/or paved surfaces) and combined mitigation efforts on temperature and mortality increases in 2050.

In scenarios where no actions are taken to mitigate heat increases the warm season temperatures were projected to increase by an average of 1.2°C in Atlanta and Philadelphia, and by an average 2.2◦C in Phoenix by 2050.  Compared to 2010 heat-related mortalities in these areas the 2050 temperature increases from the business as usual model projected an increase in heat-related mortality of 55% in Phoenix, 77% in Atlanta, and 319% in Philadelphia. The largest percent increase observed in Philadelphia is due to the relatively small number of mortalities attributed to heat events during baseline years. So while Phoenix is projected in 2050 to see the largest increase in total heat-related mortality Philadelphia will see the largest change from 2010. Application of heat management strategies during modeling offset the 2050 projected increases in heat-related mortality by an average of 57%, with some combinations of mitigation scenarios for specific areas ranging as high as 99%. 

This article indicates that urban land-based climate adaptation strategies could mitigate future health-risk from rising temperatures.  As municipal governments are devising or reviewing climate action plans, officials may want to consider the potential for albedo and vegetation enhancement in their planning and the offsets on public health during projected cost-benefit analyses.

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Stone B, Vargo J, Liu P, Habeeb D,  DeLucia A, Trail M, Hu Y, Russell A. Avoided Heat-Related Mortality through Climate Adaptation Strategies in Three US Cities. PLOS One. 2014, 9(6)e100852. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0100852.

Link to Article: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0100852

If you liked this article and topic, I recommend:

Stone B, Vargo J, Habeeb D. Managing climate change in cities: Will climate action plans work? Landscape and Urban Planning. 2012, 107:263–271. doi: 10.1016/j.landurbplan.2012.05.014

Anderson GB, Bell ML. Heat waves in the United States: mortality risk during heat waves and effect modification by heat wave characteristics in 43 U.S. communities. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2011;119(2):210-8. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1002313

To see examples of local mitigation efforts and to learn more about albedo surface enhancement visit the New York City Cool Roofs initiative. (http://www.nyc.gov/html/coolroofs/html/home/home.shtml) and Philly’s coolest block contest.  (http://www.retrofitphilly.com/).