Evaluation of Environmental and Health Benefits of Ecological Infrastructure for Urban Heat Island Mitigation

EPA Grant Number: FP916374
Title: Evaluation of Environmental and Health Benefits of Ecological Infrastructure for Urban Heat Island Mitigation
Investigators: Klein-Rosenthal, Joyce E.
Institution: Columbia University in the City of New York
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: January 1, 2004 through December 31, 2006
Project Amount: $111,344
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2004) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Fellowship - Urban Planning , Academic Fellowships , Environmental Justice


The goal of my research is to analyze the environmental and public health benefits of the development and application of ecological infrastructure in the urban built environment.. Previous research examined the relationship between the historical growth of New York City (NYC) and its effect on the urban climate. The development of the NYC heat island effect over the last century was assessed in terms of average temperature differences of the city center relative to its surrounding 31-county metropolitan region, comprised of parts of New York State, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Analysis of annual mean temperatures showed an increasing difference between NYC (Central Park weather station) and its surrounding region over the 20th century. Analysis of the temperature differences over time between NY Central Park (NYCP) station and 23 regional weather stations classified according to distance and level of urbanization show a heat island effect existing in NYC, with mean temperatures in the NYCP Station generally higher than the surrounding stations, ranging from a difference of 1.20 to 3.02°C. A difference of at least 1°C already existed at the beginning of the 20th century between the mean temperature in NYC and its surrounding rural areas, and this difference increased over the 20th century. There also was a significant decrease in the monthly and seasonal variability of the urban heat island effect over the century.


Higher summertime temperatures can result in increased levels of air pollutants, increased heat stress, and other public health consequences for urban residents. There are still many uncertainties involving the impacts of heat on vulnerable urban populations, the relationship of heat-related mortality to built environment and social risk factors, the impacts of urban form on creating elevated temperatures, and the best approach for municipalities for dealing with these problems. Adaptation of urban populations to high temperatures appears to operate over long timeframes; however, the time courses and environmental impacts of short-and long-term adaptation phenomena have yet to be quantitatively characterized and identified. The impacts and benefits of new strategies designed to prevent or mitigate urban heat islands also needs investigation. Several cities, including Chicago, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, and Sacramento, are exploring mitigation strategies involving design and engineering approaches that improve the thermal characteristics of buildings, such as green or reflective rooftops, to reduce the capacity of buildings to retain heat during hot and sunny days. The interpretation of the relationships between urban design, environmental health stressors, and sociodemographic determinants has critical importance for devising strategies to mitigate the impacts that might result from elevated urban temperatures . Research into the urban heat island effect presents many opportunities to develop an integrated methodology for understanding the complexity of the impacts of land use on surface temperatures and the urban airshed, and to explore options for management of environmental stressors to public health. My research will expand existing analysis of the impacts of urban design on spatial distributions of temperature variability, analyze the corresponding air quality and health consequences of these spatial patterns, and advance methods for evaluating the use of ecological modifications in the built environment that may have multiple advantages for conserving peak electrical demand and improving air quality and public health.

Supplemental Keywords:

fellowship, urban heat island effect, UHI effect, New York City, NYC, New Jersey, NJ, Connecticut, CT, mitigation strategies, air pollution, public health, summertime air temperatures, air quality, urban design, land use, urban airshed, environmental stressors, green buildings,, Health, Scientific Discipline, Risk Assessments, Environmental Monitoring, Urban and Regional Planning, ecological risk assessment, environmental risks, air pollution, human exposure, New York City, urban environment, heat Island effect, human health risk, land use, mitigating environmental stress

Relevant Websites:

2004 STAR Graduate Fellowship Conference Poster (PDF, 1p., 186KB, about PDF)

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2004
  • 2005
  • Final