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Attribution of mortality to the urban heat island during heatwaves in the West Midlands, UK


The Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect describes the phenomenon whereby cities are generally warmer than surrounding rural areas. Traditionally, temperature monitoring sites are placed outside of city centres, which means that point measurements do not always reflect the true air temperature of urban centres, and estimates of health impacts based on such data may under-estimate the impact of heat on public health. Climate change is likely to exacerbate heatwaves in future, but because climate projections do not usually include the UHI, health impacts may be further underestimated. We quantify the attribution of the UHI to heat related mortality in the West Midlands during the heatwave of August 2003 by comparing health impacts based on two modelled temperature simulations. The first simulation is based on detailed urban land use information and captures the extent of the UHI, whereas in the second simulation, urban land surfaces have been replaced by rural types. The results suggest that the UHI contributed around 50 % of the total heat-related mortality during the 2003 heatwave in the West Midlands. For a medium emissions scenario, a typical heatwave in 2080 could be responsible for an increase in mortality of around 3 times the rate in 2003 (278 vs. 90 deaths) when including changes in population, population weighting and the UHI effect in the West Midlands, and assuming no change in population adaptation to heat in future.

Reference information

Clare Heaviside, Sotiris Vardoulakis and Xiao-Ming Cai. 2016. Environmental Health 15(Suppl 1):S27 https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-016-0100-9

Published in Climate-ADAPT Oct 16 2017   -   Last Modified in Climate-ADAPT Nov 29 2022

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