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Characterizing urban heat islands across 50 major cities in the United States

December 13, 2023

Urban development and associated land-cover and land-use change alters the environment. The continued increase of developed land changes the Earth’s ecosystems and affects the resources provided to society. During the last 40 years, urban population in the United States has increased by more than 6.3 percent, and more than 80 percent of the U.S. population resides in urban areas. One of the changes associated with urbanization is the change of landscape features to structures such as buildings, roads, and other infrastructure that absorb and re-emit the heat of the sun more than natural landscapes such as forests and water bodies. This land-cover transition can result in an urban surface temperature that is higher than in a non-urban area, which is defined as a surface urban heat island (SUHI). A SUHI has a profound effect on the lives of urban residents and can exacerbate the risk of heat-related mortality associated with global climate change. The change of urban landscapes and climate conditions can affect the SUHI intensity. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has developed a dataset of SUHI intensity and change from 1985 to 2020 over 50 cities in the United States using Landsat surface temperature (ST) and land-cover data. The data reveal SUHI spatial distributions and temporal trends in these cities. The 50-city mean SUHI intensity reaches 2.88 degrees Celsius (°C) (5.19 degrees Fahrenheit [°F]) and an average trend of 0.32 °C per decade (0.58 °F per decade). The data also provide spatial distributions of hotspots where annual mean ST is higher than in the surrounding areas that have the same urban land-cover type and high ST that repeated more than 50 percent of the time during 1985–2020 for 50 cities.

Publication Year 2023
Title Characterizing urban heat islands across 50 major cities in the United States
DOI 10.3133/fs20233048
Authors George Z. Xian
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Fact Sheet
Series Number 2023-3048
Index ID fs20233048
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center