The influence of vegetation, mesoclimate and meteorology on urban atmospheric microclimates across a coastal to desert climate gradient

J Environ Manage. 2017 Sep 15;200:295-303. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2017.05.077. Epub 2017 Jun 3.


Many cities are increasing vegetation in part due to the potential for microclimate cooling. However, the magnitude of vegetation cooling and sensitivity to mesoclimate and meteorology are uncertain. To improve understanding of the variation in vegetation's influence on urban microclimates we asked: how do meso- and regional-scale drivers influence the magnitude and timing of vegetation-based moderation on summertime air temperature (Ta), relative humidity (RH) and heat index (HI) across dryland cities? To answer this question we deployed a network of 180 temperature sensors in summer 2015 over 30 high- and 30 low-vegetated plots in three cities across a coastal to inland to desert climate gradient in southern California, USA. In a followup study, we deployed a network of temperature and humidity sensors in the inland city. We found negative Ta and HI and positive RH correlations with vegetation intensity. Furthermore, vegetation effects were highest in evening hours, increasing across the climate gradient, with reductions in Ta and increases in RH in low-vegetated plots. Vegetation increased temporal variability of Ta, which corresponds with increased nighttime cooling. Increasing mean Ta was associated with higher spatial variation in Ta in coastal cities and lower variation in inland and desert cities, suggesting a climate dependent switch in vegetation sensitivity. These results show that urban vegetation increases spatiotemporal patterns of microclimate with greater cooling in warmer environments and during nighttime hours. Understanding urban microclimate variation will help city planners identify potential risk reductions associated with vegetation and develop effective strategies ameliorating urban microclimate.

Keywords: Air temperature; Ecosystem heterogeneity; Land use; Relative humidity; Urban heat island; Urbanization.

MeSH terms

  • California
  • Cities
  • Climate
  • Desert Climate
  • Meteorology*
  • Microclimate*