Hydrological performance of extensive green roofs in response to different rain events in a subtropical monsoon climate


Rapid urbanization transforms permeable land into developed areas with predominantly impervious surfaces, significantly increasing stormwater runoff and exacerbating the risk of pluvial flooding. Green roofs provide an attractive strategy for increasing surface permeability by mimicking pre-development hydrologic functions and mitigating flood risks in compact cities. However, the potential of this strategy has not been rigorously assessed, despite advances in global stormwater management. This is mainly due to insufficient scientific knowledge of hydrologic performance and a lack of experimental studies of rainwater-harvesting capacity under specific climatic conditions. This study evaluated the hydrologic performance of a real-scale extensive green roof (EGR) constructed in a subtropical monsoon climate in Nanjing, China. Overall, the EGR showed considerable ability to retain rainfall (mean retention ~ 60%, accumulated retention ~ 30%), although retention performance varied from 11% to 100% depending on the rainfall event considered, and decreased with increasing rainfall. Event-based rainfall–runoff comparisons demonstrated that the EGR retained rainwater efficiently during the early stages of a rainfall event and significantly attenuated peak runoff flows compared to bare roofs. Statistical analysis showed that total rainfall depth, rainfall duration, and substrate layer moisture influenced the overall retention most strongly, but also the percentage retention and runoff depth, highlighting the impact of substrate properties in addition to rainfall characteristics on EGR hydrologic performance. These findings provide new knowledge of and important insights into the hydrological performance of green roofs in subtropical monsoon climates, which could be used to guide EGR construction to increase landscape permeability, mitigate the risk of pluvial flooding, and enhance the climatic resilience of urban regions.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6


TRd :

Total rainfall depth


Rain duration

I m :

Mean rainfall intensity

I p :

Peak rainfall intensity


Return period

R :

Overall retention

R p :

Percent retention (percentage of the total rainfall that did not run off the roof)

R a :

Accumulated retention as a percentage of the total rainfall for all selected rainfall events


Onset delay (the time difference between the start of rainfall and the start of discharge)


Peak reduction


Peak runoff delay

T c :

Concentration time

ROd :

Total runoff depth


Discharge duration


Solar radiation accumulated between the start and end of rainfall

M :

Substrate layer moisture before the start of rainfall


Duration of the antecedent dry weather period


  1. Ahiablame LM, Engel BA, Chaubey I (2012) Effectiveness of low impact development practices: literature review and suggestions for future research. Water Air Soil Pollut 223:4253–4273. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11270-012-1189-2

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Bell CD, McMillan SK, Clinton SM, Jefferson AJ (2016) Hydrologic response to stormwater control measures in urban watersheds. J Hydrol 541(Part B):1488–1500. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2016.08.049

  3. Berardi U, GhaffarianHoseini A, GhaffarianHoseini A (2014) State-of-the-art analysis of the environmental benefits of green roofs. Appl Energy 115:411–428. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apenergy.2013.10.047

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Berndtsson JC (2010) Green roof performance toward management of runoff water quantity and quality: a review. Ecol Eng 36:351–360. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoleng.2009.12.014

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Carpenter DD, Kaluvakolanu P (2011) Effect of roof surface type on storm-water runoff from full-scale roofs in a temperate climate. J Irrig Drain E 137:161–169. https://doi.org/10.1061/(ASCE)IR.1943-4774.0000185

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Carpenter KD, Kuivila KM, Hladik ML, Cole MB (2016) Storm-event-transport of urban-use pesticides to streams likely impairs invertebrate assemblages. Environ Monit Assess 188:345. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10661-016-5215-5

    Article  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  7. Carson TB, Marasco DE, Culligan PJ, McGillis WR (2013) Hydrological performance of extensive green roofs in New York City: observations and multi-year modeling of three, full-scale systems. Environ Res Lett 8:024036. https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024036

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Carter TL, Rasmussen TC (2006) Hydrologic behavior of vegetated roofs. J Am Water Resour Assoc 42:1261–1274. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1752-1688.2006.tb05299.x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Castleton HF, Stovin V, Beck SBM, Davison JB (2010) Green roofs; building energy savings and the potential for retrofit. Energy Build 42(10):1582–1591. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enbuild.2010.05.004

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Che SQ, Xie CK, Chen D, Yu BQ (2015) Development and constructive approaches for theories and technologies of sponge city system. Chin Landsc Archit 6:11–16 (in Chinese)

    Google Scholar 

  11. Chinese Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters (2013) Statistical report of city pluvial floods in China. Chinese Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters, Beijing

  12. CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) (2006) Urban stormwater: best practice environmental management guidelines. CSIRO, Collingwood

    Google Scholar 

  13. Gaffin SR, Khanbilvardi R, Rosenzweig C (2009) Development of a green roof environmental monitoring and meteorological network in New York City. Sensors 9(4):2647–2660

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. Geiger WF (2015) Sponge city and LID technology—vision and tradition. Landsc Archit Front 3(2):10–21

    Google Scholar 

  15. General Office of the State Council of People’s Republic of China (2013) Notification on the enhancements of the construction of urban drainage and urban flooding-protective facilities, no 23. http://www.gov.cn/zwgk/2013-04/01/content_2367368.htm. Accessed 20 July 2018 (in Chinese)

  16. Getter KL, Rowe DB, Andresen JA (2007) Quantifying the effect of slope on extensive green roof stormwater retention. Ecol Eng 31:225–231. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoleng.2007.06.004

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Gregoire BG, Clausen JC (2011) Effect of a modular extensive green roof on stormwater runoff and water quality. Ecol Eng 37:963–969. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoleng.2011.02.004

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Hakimdavar R, Culligan PJ, Finazzi M, Barontini S, Ranzi R (2014) Scale dynamics of extensive green roofs: quantifying the effect of drainage area and rainfall characteristics on observed and modeled green roof hydrologic performance. Ecol Eng 73:494–508. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoleng.2014.09.080

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Hilten RN, Lawrence TM, Tollner EW (2008) Modeling stormwater runoff from green roofs with HYDRUS-1D. J Hydrol 358:288–293. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2008.06.010

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) (2015) AR5 synthesis report—climate change 2014. https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/SYR_AR5_FINAL_full_wcover.pdf. Accessed 5 June 2017

  21. Locatelli L, Mark O, Mikkelsen PS, Arnbjerg-Nielsen K, Jensen MB, Binning PJ (2014) Modelling of green roof hydrological performance for urban drainage applications. J Hydrol 519:3237–3248. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2014.10.030

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Lv ZS, Zhao PP (2013) First report about urban flood in China: 170 cities unprotected and 340 cities down-to-standard. Zhongzhou Constr 15:56–57 (in Chinese)

    Google Scholar 

  23. Mentens J, Raes D, Hermy M (2006) Green roofs as a tool for solving the rainwater runoff problem in the urbanized 21st century? Landsc Urban Plan 77:217–226. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2005.02.010

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Ministry of Finance of the People’s Republic of China (2014) Notice on the implementation of the central financial support to the construction of pilot sponge cities. http://jjs.mof.gov.cn/zhengwuxinxi/tongzhigonggao/201501/t20150115_1180280.html. Accessed 16 Aug 2018 (in Chinese)

  25. MOHURD (Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development of China) (2014) Technical guide for sponge cities—construction of low impact development (for trial implementation). http://www.mohurd.gov.cn/zcfg/jsbwj_0/jsbwjcsjs/201411/W020141102041225.pdf. Accessed 17 June 2003 (in Chinese)

  26. Montalto F, Behr C, Alfredo K, Wolf M, Arye M, Walsh M (2007) Rapid assessment of the cost-effectiveness of low impact development for CSO control. Landsc Urban Plan 82:117–131. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2007.02.004

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Monterusso MA, Rowe DB, Rugh CL, Russell DK (2004) Runoff water quantity and quality from green roof systems. ISHS Acta Hortic 639:369–376. https://doi.org/10.17660/ActaHortic.2004.639.49

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  28. Nanjing Meteorological Bureau (2014) Nanjing meteorological statistical annual report. Nanjing, China (in Chinese)

    Google Scholar 

  29. Nanjing Meteorological Bureau (2017) Nanjing meteorological statistical annual report. Nanjing, China (in Chinese)

    Google Scholar 

  30. Nardini A, Andri S, Crasso M (2012) Influence of substrate depth and vegetation type on temperature and water runoff mitigation by extensive green roofs: shrubs versus herbaceous plants. Urban Ecosyst 15(3):697–708. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11252-011-0220-5

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Nawaz R, McDonald A, Postoyko S (2015) Hydrological performance of a full-scale extensive green roof located in a temperate climate. Ecol Eng 82:66–80. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoleng.2014.11.061

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Palla A, Gnecco I, Lanza LG (2010) Hydrologic restoration in the urban environment using green roofs. Water 2:140–154. https://doi.org/10.3390/w2020140

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Palla A, Sansalone JJ, Gnecco I, Lanza LG (2011) Storm water infiltration in a monitored green roof for hydrologic restoration. Water Sci Technol 64(3):766–773. https://doi.org/10.2166/wst.2011.171

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  34. Palla A, Gnecco I, Lanza LG (2012) Compared performance of a conceptual and a mechanistic hydrologic models of a green roof. Hydrol Process 26:73–84. https://doi.org/10.1002/hyp.8112

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Perales-Momparler S, Andrés-Doménech I, Hernández-Crespo C, Vallés-Morán F, Martín M, Escuder-Bueno I, Andreu J (2017) The role of monitoring sustainable drainage systems for promoting transition towards regenerative urban built environments: a case study in the Valencian region, Spain. J Clean Prod 163:S113–S124

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Qin HP, Li ZX, Fu GT (2013) The effects of low impact development on urban flooding under different rainfall characteristics. J Environ Manag 129:577–585. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2013.08.026

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Santamouris M (2014) Cooling the cities—a review of reflective and green roof mitigation technologies to fight heat island and improve comfort in urban environments. Sol Energy 103:682–703. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.solener.2012.07.003

  38. Schroll E, Lambrinos J, Righetti T, Sandrock D (2011) The role of vegetation in regulating stormwater runoff from green roofs in a winter rainfall regime. Ecol Eng 37:595–600. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoleng.2010.12.020

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Speak AF, Rothwell JJ, Lindley SJ, Smith CL (2013) Rainwater runoff retention on an aged intensive green roof. Sci Total Environ 461–462:28–38. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2013.04.085

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  40. Spolek G (2008) Performance monitoring of three ecoroofs in Portland, Oregon. Urban Ecosyst 11:349–359. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11252-008-0061-z

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Stovin V (2010) The potential of green roofs to manage urban stormwater. Water Environ J 24(3):192–199. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1747-6593.2009.00174.x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Stovin V, Vesuviano G, Kasmin H (2012) The hydrological performance of a green roof test bed under UK climatic conditions. J Hydrol 414–415:148–161. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2011.10.022

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Stovin V, Poë S, Berretta C (2013) A modelling study of long term green roof retention performance. J Environ Manag 131:206–215. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2013.09.026

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Stovin V, Poë S, De-Ville S, Berretta C (2015) The influence of substrate and vegetation configuration on green roof hydrological performance. Ecol Eng 85:159–172. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoleng.2015.09.076

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Teemusk A, Mander Ü (2007) Rainwater runoff quantity and quality performance from a green roof: the effects of short-term events. Ecol Eng 30(3):271–277. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoleng.2007.01.009

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. USEPA (US Environmental Protection Agency) (2000) EPA-841-B-00-005: Low impact development (LID)—a literature review. Office of Water, Washington, DC

  47. USEPA (US Environmental Protection Agency) (2007) EPA-841-F-07F0006: Reducing stormwater costs through low impact development (LID): strategies and practices. USEPA, Washington, DC

  48. van Seters T, Rocha L, Smith D, Macmillan G (2009) Evaluation of green roofs for runoff retention, runoff quality, and leachability. Water Qual Res J Can 44(1):33–47

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. VanWoert ND, Rowe DB, Andresen JA, Rugh CL, Fernandez RT, Xiao L (2005) Green roofs stormwater retention: effects of roof surface, slope, and media depth. J Environ Qual 34:1036–1044. https://doi.org/10.2134/jeq2004.0364

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  50. Versini PA, Ramier D, Berthier E, De Gouvello B (2015) Assessment of the hydrological impacts of green roof: from building scale to basin scale. J Hydrol 524:562–575

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Vesuviano G, Stovin V (2013) A generic hydrological model for a green roof drainage layer. Water Sci Technol 68(4):769–775. https://doi.org/10.2166/wst.2013.294

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  52. Vijayaraghavan K (2016) Green roofs: a critical review on the role of components, benefits, limitations and trends. Renew Sustain Energy Rev 57:740–752. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rser.2015.12.119

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Villareal EL, Bengtsson L (2005) Response of a sedum green-roof to individual rain events. Ecol Eng 25(1):1–7. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoleng.2004.11.008

  54. Volder A, Dvorak B (2014) Event size, substrate water content and vegetation affect storm water retention efficiency of an un-irrigated extensive green roof system in Central Texas. Sustain Cities Soc 10:59–64. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scs.2013.05.005

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Voyde E, Fassman E, Simcock R (2010) Hydrology of an extensive living roof under sub-tropical climate conditions in Auckland, New Zealand. J Hydrol 394:384–395. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2010.09.013

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Wong THF (2006) An overview of water sensitive urban design practices in Australia. Water Pract Technol 1(1):1–8. https://doi.org/10.2166/WPT.2006018

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Wong GKL, Jim CY (2014) Quantitative hydrologic performance of extensive green roof under humid-tropical rainfall regime. Ecol Eng 70:366–378. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoleng.2014.06.025

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Yu KJ, Li DH, Yuan H, Fu W, Qiao Q, Wang SS (2015) “Sponge city”: theory and practice. City Plan Rev 39(6):26–36 (in Chinese)

    Google Scholar 

  59. Zhang QZ, Wang XK, Hou PQ, Wan WX, Li RD, Ren YF, Ouyang ZY (2014) Quality and seasonal variation of rainwater harvested from concrete, asphalt, ceramic tile and green roofs in Chongqing, China. J Environ Manag 132:178–187. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2013.11.009

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Zimmer CA, Heathcote IW, Whiteley HR, Schroeter H (2007) Low-impact-development practices for stormwater: implications for urban hydrology. Can Water Resour J 32(3):193–212. https://doi.org/10.4296/cwrj3203193

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The research was supported by the National Key R&D Program of China (2017YFC0505800), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (nos. 51878328, 31670470, 51478217) and the sponsorship of Jiangsu Oversea Research and Training Program for University Prominent Young and Middle-aged Teachers and Presidents. The authors thank Hailong Xu, Junsheng Li, Jiayu Chen, and all other members who helped to conduct the field surveys.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Fanhua Kong.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Yin, H., Kong, F. & Dronova, I. Hydrological performance of extensive green roofs in response to different rain events in a subtropical monsoon climate. Landscape Ecol Eng 15, 297–313 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11355-019-00380-z

Download citation


  • Extensive green roof
  • Sponge city
  • Subtropical monsoon climate
  • Experimental analysis
  • Hydrologic performance
  • Nanjing