How trees combat the urban heat island effect

Thursday, July 14, 2016

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.

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.

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.

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