Using watered landscapes to manipulate urban heat island effects: How much water will it take to cool phoenix?

Patricia Gober, Anthony Brazel, Ray Quay, Soe Myint, Susanne Grossman-Clarke, Adam Miller, Steve Rossi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

154 Scopus citations


Problem: The prospect that urban heat island (UHI) effects and climate change may increase urban temperatures is a problem for cities that actively promote urban redevelopment and higher densities. One possible UHI mitigation strategy is to plant more trees and other irrigated vegetation to prevent daytime heat storage and facilitate nighttime cooling, but this requires water resources that are limited in a desert city like Phoenix. Purpose: We investigated the tradeoffs between water use and nighttime cooling inherent in urban form and land use choices. Methods: We used a Local-Scale Urban Meteorological Parameterization Scheme (LUMPS) model to examine the variation in temperature and evaporation in 10 census tracts in Phoenix's urban core. After validating results with estimates of outdoor water use based on tract-level city water records and satellite imagery, we used the model to simulate the temperature and water use consequences of implementing three different scenarios. Results and conclusions: We found that increasing irrigated landscaping lowers nighttime temperatures, but this relationship is not linear; the greatest reductions occur in the least vegetated neighborhoods. A ratio of the change in water use to temperature impact reached a threshold beyond which increased outdoor water use did little to ameliorate UHI effects. Takeaway for practice: There is no one design and landscape plan capable of addressing increasing UHI and climate effects everywhere. Any one strategy will have inconsistent results if applied across all urban landscape features and may lead to an inefficient allocation of scarce water resources. Research Support: This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Grant SES-0345945 (Decision Center for a Desert City) and by the City of Phoenix Water Services Department. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)109-121
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the American Planning Association
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2010


  • LUMPS model
  • Scenarios
  • Urban heat island (UHI)
  • Urban heat island mitigation
  • Water resource planning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Urban Studies


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