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Urban climatology

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Title: Urban climatology  
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Subject: Climatology, Urban climate, 1818 in science, Physical geography, Urban heat island
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Urban climatology

Urban climatology refers to a specific branch of climatology that is concerned with interactions between urban areas and the atmosphere, the effects they have on one another, and the varying spatial and temporal scales at which these processes (and responses) occur.


  • History 1
  • Influential factors 2
    • Temperature and Urban Heat Island Effect 2.1
    • Pollution 2.2
    • Precipitation 2.3
  • Climate change 3
  • Spatial planning and public health 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6


Luke Howard is considered to have established urban climatology with his book The Climate of London, which contained continuous daily observations from 1801 to 1841 of wind direction, atmospheric pressure, maximum temperature, and rainfall.[1]

Urban climatology came about as a methodology for studying the results of industrialization and urbanization. Constructing cities changes the physical environment and alters energy, moisture, and motion regimes near the surface. Most of these alterations can be traced to causal factors such as air pollution; anthropogenic sources of heat; surface waterproofing; thermal properties of the surface materials; and morphology of the surface and its specific three-dimensional geometry—building spacing, height, orientation, vegetative layering, and the overall dimensions and geography of these elements.[2] Other factors are relief, proximity to water bodies, size of the city, population density, and land-use distributions.[3]

Influential factors

Several factors influence the urban climate, including city size, the morphology of the city, land-use configuration, and the geographic setting (such as relief, elevation, and regional climate).[4] Some of the differences between urban and rural climates include air quality, wind patterns, and changes in rainfall patterns, but one of the most studied is the Urban heat island effect.[5]

Temperature and Urban Heat Island Effect

Urban environments are typically warmer than their surroundings, as documented over a century ago by Howard.[6] Urban areas are islands or spots on the broader scale compared with more rural surrounding land. The spatial distribution of temperatures occurs in tandem with temporal changes, which are both causally related to anthropogenic sources.

The urban environment has two atmosphere layers, besides the planetary boundary layer outside and extending well above the city: (1) The urban boundary layer is due to the spatially integrated heat and moisture exchanges between the city and its overlying air. (2) The surface of the city corresponds to the level of the urban canopy layer. Fluxes across this plane comprise those from individual units, such as roofs, canyon tops, trees, lawns, and roads, integrated over larger land-use divisions (for example, suburbs). The urban heat island effect has been a major focus of urban climatological studies, and in general the effect the urban environment has on local meteorological conditions.


The field also includes the topics of Air quality, Radiation Fluxes, Micro-Climates and even issues traditionally associated with architectural design and engineering, such as Wind Engineering. Causes and effects of pollution as understood through Urban Climatology are becoming more important for Urban Planning.[7]


Changes in winds and convection patterns over and around cities impacts precipitation. Contributing factors are believed to be urban heat island, heightened surface roughness, and increased aerosol concentration.[8]

Climate change

Urban climatology is strongly linked to research surrounding global warming. As centers for socio-economic activities, cities produce large amounts of greenhouse gases, most notably CO2 as a consequence of human activities such as transport, development, waste related to heating and cooling requirements etc.

Globally, cities are expected to grow into the 21st century (and beyond) [9] - as they grow and develop the landscapes in which they inhabit will change so too will the atmosphere resting above them, increasing emissions of GHG's thus contributing to the global green house effect.

Finally, many cities are vulnerable to the projected consequences of climate change (sea level rise, changes in temperature, precipitation, storm frequency) as most develop on or near coast-lines, nearly all produce distinct urban heat islands and atmospheric pollution: as areas in which there is concentrated human habitation these effects potentially will have the largest and most dramatic impact (e.g. France's heat wave in 2003) and thus are a major focus for urban climatology.[10]

Spatial planning and public health

Urban Climatology impacts decision-making for municipal planning and policy in regards to pollution,[11] extreme heat events, and stormwater modeling.[12]

See also


  1. ^ Mills, G. 2007: Luke Howard and The Climate of London. Weather 63, 153-157 [1]
  2. ^ Arnfield, A. John. "Two Decades of Urban Climate Research: A Review of Turbulence, Exchanges of Energy and Water, and the Urban Heat Island." International Journal of Climatology 23.1 (2003): 1-26. Web. [2].
  3. ^ Oke, T.R. 1988: Street design and urban canopy layer climate. Energy and Buildings 11, 103-113 [3]
  4. ^ Oke, T.R. 1968: Toward a more rational understanding of the urban heat island. McGill Climate Bulletin. 20pp
  5. ^ Grimmond, CSB. 2006: Prof Sue Grimmond answers questions on urban climatology [4]
  7. ^ H Romero, M Ihl, A Rivera, P Zalazar, P Azocar, Rapid urban growth, land-use changes and air pollution in Santiago, Chile, Atmospheric Environment, Volume 33, Issues 24–25, October 1999, Pages 4039-4047, ISSN 1352-2310, (
  8. ^ Han, J. et al. 2014: Urban impacts on precipitation; Asia-Pacific Journal of Atmospheric Sciences, Volume 50, Issue 1, pp 17-30
  9. ^ United Nations. (2014). World urbanization prospects, the 2014 revision: Highlights [5]
  10. ^ [5] Alexander, Mathews et. al [6]
  11. ^ Hebbert, M. and Mackillop, F. (2013), Urban Climatology Applied to Urban Planning: A Postwar Knowledge Circulation Failure. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37: 1542–1558.
  12. ^ Yen, Ben Chie. "Urban Stormwater Modeling and Simulation." Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society Apr. 1995: 564+. Academic OneFile. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.
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