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Turning down the heat: An enhanced understanding of the relationship between urban vegetation and surface temperature at the city scale

Duncan, J.M.A., Boruff, B., Saunders, A., Sun, Q., Hurley, J., Amati, M.
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.656 pp. 118-128
artificial intelligence, cooling, grasses, heat, landscapes, planning, regression analysis, shrubs, statistical models, summer, surface temperature, trees, urban areas, variance, vegetation structure, vegetation types, Western Australia
Guiding urban planners on the cooling returns of different configurations of urban vegetation is important to protect urban dwellers from adverse heat impacts. To this end, we estimated statistical models that fused multi-temporal very fine spatial (20 cm) and vertical (1 mm) resolution imagery, that captures the complexity of urban vegetation, with remotely sensed temperature data to assess how urban vegetation configuration influences urban temperatures. Perth, Western Australia, was used as a case-study for this analysis. Panel regression models showed that within a location an increase in tree and shrub cover has a larger cooling effect than grass coverage. On average, holding all else equal, an approximate 1 km2 increase in shrub (tree) cover within a location reduces surface temperatures by 12 °C (5 °C). We included a range of robustness checks for the observed relationships between urban vegetation type and temperature. Geographically weighted regression models showed spatial variation in the cooling effect of different vegetation types; this indicates that i) unobserved factors moderate temperature-vegetation relationships across urban landscapes, and ii) that urban vegetation type and temperature relationships are complex. Machine learning models (Random Forests) were used to further explore complex and non-linear relationships between different urban vegetation configurations and temperature. The Random Forests showed that vegetation type explained 31.84% of the out-of-bag variance in summer surface temperatures, that increased cover of large vegetation within a location increases cooling, and that different configurations of urban vegetation structure can lead to cooling gains. The models in this study were trained with vegetation data capturing local detail, multiple time-periods, and entire city coverage. Thus, these models illustrate the potential to develop locally-detailed and spatially explicit tools to guide planning of vegetation configuration to optimise cooling at local- and city-scales.