Accurate characterization of land cover in urban environments: Determining the importance of including obscured impervious surfaces in urban heat island models

Paul Coseo, Larissa Larsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations


Urban heat islands (UHI) increase summer temperatures and can threaten human well-being during extreme heat events. Since urbanization plays a key role in UHI development, accurate quantification of land cover types is critical to their identification. This study examineshowquantifying land cover types using both two- and three-dimensional approaches to land cover quantification affects an UHI model's explanatory power. Two-dimensional approaches treat tree canopies as a land cover, whereas three-dimensional approaches document the land cover areas obscured under tree canopies. We compare how accurately the two approaches explain elevated air temperatures in Chicago, Illinois. Our results show on average 14.1% of impervious surface areas went undocumented using a two-dimensional approach. The most common concealed impervious surfaces were sidewalks, driveways, and parking lots (+6.2%), followed by roads (+6.1%). Yet, the three-dimensional approach did not improve the explanatory power of a UHI model substantially. At 2 a.m., the adjusted R2 increased from 0.64 for a two-dimensional analysis to 0.68 for a three-dimensional analysis. We found that the less time consuming two-dimensional quantification of land covers was sufficient to predict neighborhood UHIs. As climate change exacerbates UHI, more cities will map urban hotspots and this research increases our understanding of alternative approaches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number347
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2019



  • Heat vulnerability
  • Land cover characterization
  • Urban climate
  • Urban heat islands

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)

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