Regional relationships between surface temperature, vegetation, and human settlement in a rapidly urbanizing ecosystem

G. Darrel Jenerette, Sharon Harlan, Anthony Brazel, Nancy Jones, Larissa Larsen, William L. Stefanov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

332 Scopus citations


Regional climate change induced by rapid urbanization is responsible for and may result from changes in coupled human-ecological systems. Specifically, the distribution of urban vegetation may be an important intermediary between patterns of human settlement and regional climate spatial variability. To test this hypothesis we identified the relationships between surface temperature, one component of regional climate, vegetation, and human settlement patterns in the Phoenix, AZ, USA region. Combining satellite-derived surface temperature and vegetation data from an early summer day with US Census and topographic data, we found substantial surface temperature differences within the city that correlate primarily with an index of vegetation cover. Furthermore, both of these patterns vary systematically with the social characteristics of neighborhoods through the region. Overall, every $10,000 increase in neighborhood annual median household income was associated with a 0.28°C decrease in surface temperature on an early summer day in Phoenix. Temperature variation within a neighborhood was negatively related to population density. A multivariate model generated using path analysis supports our hypothesis that social impacts on surface temperature occur primarily through modifications of vegetation cover. Higher income neighborhoods were associated with increased vegetation cover and higher density neighborhoods were associated with decreased vegetation variability. These results suggest that settlement patterns in the central Arizona region influence regional climate through multiple pathways that are heterogeneously distributed throughout the city.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)353-365
Number of pages13
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2007


  • Census
  • Income
  • Path analysis
  • Phoenix
  • Population density
  • Remote sensing
  • Urban heat island
  • Urbanization
  • Vegetation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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