Mapping a wind-modified Urban Heat Island in Tucson, Arizona (with comments on integrating research and undergraduate learning)

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Tucson, Arizona, is an example of the many cities in the southwestern United States experiencing rapid growth and urban sprawl over the last several decades. The accompanying extensive modification of land use and land cover leads to many environmental impacts, including urban heat islands. The primary aim of this paper is to expand knowledge of the phenomenon for Tucson, by quantifying the amount of urban warming, and by mapping temperature patterns over the city and examining related aspects of the local-scale atmospheric circulation. The secondary aim is to document how an applied empirical research project was integrated into an introductory undergraduate climatology class via active learning. The paper begins and concludes with general and practical comments on combining the research and educational aspects of the project. An analysis of 30-yr temporal trends in urban and nonurban minimum temperatures across the region shows the rate of urban warming to be about three-quarters of the general regional warming. Tucson's urban heat island is ∼3°C over the last century, with >2°C of this warming in the last 30 years. The annual average urban warming trend over the last three decades is 0.071°C yr-1 with the strongest effect in March and the weakest effect in November. There is evidence that the latter is caused by strong, near-surface winds under stable conditions. A case study is presented comprising field measurements and map analysis of urban temperatures and supporting variables for 13 February 1999. Measurements include comprehensive mapping using vehicle-mounted thermistors and numerous local meteorological observations from around the city. Wind speeds during the field measurements were somewhat stronger than is typical of heat island studies, up to 12m s-1. Nonetheless, because of terrain-induced flows and land surface heterogeneity, complex temperature patterns were observed. Several transient katabatic flows off surrounding mountain ranges were detected, leading to localized cold pockets. Locally warm areas in other parts of the city are associated with terrain sheltering or local land surface heating. The central city showed a possible urban heating pattern with temperatures ∼2°C higher than upwind rural air.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2417-2431
Number of pages15
JournalBulletin of the American Meteorological Society
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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