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IN THE HEAT OF THINGS: WHAT IS URBAN HEAT ISLAND EFFECT?

IN THE HEAT OF THINGS: WHAT IS URBAN HEAT ISLAND EFFECT?

Urbanization has impacted billions of people in a positive manner all across the globe. However, while doing so, we’ve created ‘Urban Heat Islands’. These refer to metropolitan areas that are, on average, 2 degrees warmer than surrounding rural areas due to high concentration of concrete, pavements and roads that absorb most of the heat.

Areas with vegetation cover absorb lesser heat than pavements and roads, hence are cooler on average.  The environmental, economic, health and social implications of the Urban Heat Island effect are plenty.

What are the  Impacts?

Urban heat islands such as New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore have witnessed increased average temperatures due to large volumes of high albedo and thermal conductivity surfaces.

Ever wondered why green covered areas in cities feel much cooler than concrete ones?

With decreased vegetation cover in heat islands, there is lack of air purification of green house gases such as CO2 and NO2. What higher temperatures in these cities have done is increase energy use due to higher demand for air conditioning in residential and commercial spaces. Demand for air conditioning has approximately increased 1-9% for every 2 degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature.

Who supplies the energy? It is the big energy corporations, most of which are powered using fossil fuels. The burning of fossil fuels causes increased greenhouse emissions such as CO2 and NO2. These gases are responsible for accelerated global warming and ozone depletion. Environmental disadvantages of urban heat islands is far reaching as they impact nearby water bodies in cities too. The sewers of a city bring warmer water to nearby lakes and rovers, hereby impairing water quality and increasing chances of eutrophication.

Impacts of urban heat islands aren’t just restricted to environmental and financial aspects, they have severe effects on human inhabitants too. For instance, various studies done by IITs and other research institutes conclude that people living in urban heat islands are at increased risk of respiratory difficulties, heat cramps, non-fatal heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

The detrimental effects of rapid and unplanned urbanization are on display in our country. The heat island phenomenon isn’t something that can be ignored. There must be adaptation and mitigation techniques adopted by private builders and government agencies to ensure a better quality of life to millions of Indians who call these cities their homes.

About The Author

Tushaar Sharma

Tushaar is currently pursuing Environmental Science with a minor in Sustainability Sciences from Emory University, Georgia, US. He has been intrigued by environmental systems since a young age but it wasn’t until high school that he realized his passion for the field of sustainability.

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