Urban Vulnerability to Climate Change: A System Dynamics Analysis

Principal Investigators Dr. Sharon L. Harlan, Arizona State University; Dr. G. Darrel Jenerette, University of California, Riverside; Dr. Susanne Grossman Clarke, Arizona State University; Dr. Tim Lant, Arizona State University; Dr. Chris A. Martin, Arizona State University; Dr. William L. Stefanov, Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center
Funding Source National Science Foundation’s Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Humans Systems program, Grant No. GEO-0816168 (September 8, 2008 – February 29, 2012)
Project Website Unavailable

Exposure to excessively warm weather is a significant threat to human health and well-being in cities around the world. The process of urbanization is strongly linked to increasing temperature through the formation of heat islands and these local effects are likely to intensify with future trends in global warming. This project addresses the interplay between changing urban climates and the socioecological (coupled human-natural) systems that amplify or mitigate heat-related hazards for different socioeconomic and racial/ethnic groups. The theoretical framework of this study defines vulnerability as a dynamic feature of socioecological systems that differentially place people and landscapes at risk from heat-related hazards. Three research questions will be addressed: 1) How does the spatial structure of heat riskscapes change through time and how are riskscapes related to changes in urban landscape cover characteristics, seasonal variations in local climate, global climate, and residential segregation? 2) How have residentially segregated neighborhoods, increasing environmental and social inequalities, and heterogeneous heat riskscapes rendered low-income and racial/ethnic minority populations disproportionately vulnerable to heat-related health hazards? 3) How will heat-related health vulnerabilities be distributed across particular places and population subgroups in the future? This research will transform understanding of the distributive impact of climate change on urban systems.

Taking account of global trends in urban growth and climate change, the causes of variation in heat-related vulnerability within cities will be analyzed using ecological, meteorological, social, and health data from the Phoenix, AZ metropolitan region in the United States. The project addresses large gaps in knowledge about the distributive impacts of climate change on socioeconomic and racial/ethnic groups, the landscape, and the larger socioecological system. Innovative techniques used in this study are developing fine-scale, surface energy balance models used to integrate and extend climate research over spatial and temporal scales; combining multi-resolution airborne and satellite remotely sensed data with a mesoscale next-generation meteorological modeling nested in state-of-the-art global climate model output; conducting unique spatial analyses of heat riskscapes and heat-related health vulnerabilities in urban neighborhoods; and building and visualizing an original system dynamics model that will link future global climate change scenarios with local socioecological systems. This model will project alternative future scenarios of heat riskscapes, vulnerability maps, and public health outcomes in the face of rapid urbanization. These activities will inform educational programs in Phoenix communities most affected by heat-related health hazards and will involve residents in participatory research. The empirical research results will be used to build a new integrated system dynamics model of vulnerability that will be relevant for cities on several continents because enlarging heat islands, higher temperatures, and adverse impacts on health are observed globally.