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Green roofs against pollution and climate change. A review


Green roofs recover green spaces in urban areas and benefit the public, farmers, and wildlife by providing many environmental, ecological, and economic advantages. Green roofs reduce stormwater runoff, mitigate urban heat island effects, absorb dust and smog, sequester carbon dioxide, produce oxygen, create space for food production, and provide natural habitat for animals and plants. Here, we studied the environmental impact of green roofs in terms of runoff quality and greenhouse gas CO2 sequestration. We screened more than 650 scientific papers and we reviewed detailed findings from 52 publications. There are two major points: (1) Concerning pollution, the concentrations of minor pollutants, such as heavy metals, biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), total suspended solids (TSS), and turbidity, are small and thus do not pose an immediate threat to the environment. However, the concentrations of major pollutants, such as nitrogen of 0.49–9.01 mg/l and phosphorus of 0.04–25 mg/l, vary highly for different green roofs and can adversely affect runoff quality. Nutrient leaching may be controllable through proper mitigation measures including better design and system management which require further research. According to both laboratory experiments and field monitoring data, the main factors affecting runoff quality are precipitation properties, growth media composition and depth, plant species, and maintenance protocols. Research gaps exist in quantifying how these factors affect leachate pollutant load. Systematic studies are needed for improving green roof designs to reduce adverse impacts. (2) Concerning CO2 sequestration, studies reveal that green roofs directly sequester substantial amounts of carbon in plants and soils through photosynthesis. Green roofs reduce ambient CO2 concentrations in the vicinities. Green roofs also indirectly reduce CO2 releases from power plants and furnaces by reducing demand for heating and cooling, suggesting long-term economic and environmental benefits of green roofs.

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Correspondence to Roger W. Babcock Jr..

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Li, Y., Babcock, R.W. Green roofs against pollution and climate change. A review. Agron. Sustain. Dev. 34, 695–705 (2014).

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  • Green roof
  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorus
  • Runoff quality
  • CO2 sequestration
  • Pollution mitigation