Estimating the effects of vegetation and increased albedo on the urban heat island effect with spatial causal inference.


The urban heat island effect causes increased heat stress in urban areas. Cool roofs and urban greening have been promoted as mitigation strategies to reduce this effect. However, evaluating their efficacy remains a challenge, as potential temperature reductions depend on local characteristics. Existing methods to characterize their efficacy, such as computational fluid dynamics and urban canopy models, are computationally burdensome and require a high degree of expertise to employ. We propose a data-driven approach to overcome these hurdles, inspired by recent innovations in spatial causal inference. This approach allows for estimates of hypothetical interventions to reduce the urban heat island effect. We demonstrate this approach by modeling evening temperature in Durham, North Carolina, using readily retrieved air temperature, land cover, and satellite data. Hypothetical interventions such as lining streets with trees, cool roofs, and changing parking lots to green space are estimated to decrease evening temperatures by a maximum of 0.7-0.9   [Formula: see text], with reduced effects on temperature as a function of distance from the intervention. Because of the ease of data access, this approach may be applied to other cities in the U.S. to help them come up with city-specific solutions for reducing urban heat stress.