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Regional relationships between surface temperature, vegetation, and human settlement in a rapidly urbanizing ecosystem

Abstract

Regional climate change induced by rapid urbanization is responsible for and may result from changes in coupled human-ecological systems. Specifically, the distribution of urban vegetation may be an important intermediary between patterns of human settlement and regional climate spatial variability. To test this hypothesis we identified the relationships between surface temperature, one component of regional climate, vegetation, and human settlement patterns in the Phoenix, AZ, USA region. Combining satellite-derived surface temperature and vegetation data from an early summer day with US Census and topographic data, we found substantial surface temperature differences within the city that correlate primarily with an index of vegetation cover. Furthermore, both of these patterns vary systematically with the social characteristics of neighborhoods through the region. Overall, every $10,000 increase in neighborhood annual median household income was associated with a 0.28°C decrease in surface temperature on an early summer day in Phoenix. Temperature variation within a neighborhood was negatively related to population density. A multivariate model generated using path analysis supports our hypothesis that social impacts on surface temperature occur primarily through modifications of vegetation cover. Higher income neighborhoods were associated with increased vegetation cover and higher density neighborhoods were associated with decreased vegetation variability. These results suggest that settlement patterns in the central Arizona region influence regional climate through multiple pathways that are heterogeneously distributed throughout the city.

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Acknowledgements

We thank B. Bolin, N.B. Grimm, E.␣Hackett, D. Hope, A. Kirby, A. Nelson, T. Rex, J.␣Reichman S. Wolf, and J. Wu for insightful discussions during the development of this project. This research was supported by the National Science Foundation: Biocomplexity in the Environment Program (SES 0216281, Neighborhood Ecosystems), Urban Ecology Integrative Graduate Education and Research and Traineeship (DGE 9987612), and the Central Arizona–Phoenix Long Term Ecological Research project (DEB 9714833) Part of this work was conducted while SLH was a Sabbatical Fellow at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, a Center funded by NSF (Grant #DEB-94-21535), the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the State of California.

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Correspondence to G. Darrel Jenerette.

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Jenerette, G., Harlan, S., Brazel, A. et al. Regional relationships between surface temperature, vegetation, and human settlement in a rapidly urbanizing ecosystem. Landscape Ecol 22, 353–365 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-006-9032-z

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Keywords

  • Phoenix
  • Urbanization
  • Urban heat island
  • Vegetation
  • Path analysis
  • Remote sensing
  • Census
  • Income
  • Population density