Urban heat has far-flung impact

Cities are affecting global climate patterns in ways unsuspected till now, say US researchers who think climatologists should factor energy consumption patterns into their models.

Urban real estate is literally hot property – so hot that it can affect not just the countryside a thousand kilometres away, but even weather patterns over whole continents.

A team from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, Florida State University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, report in Nature Climate Change that they looked at a phenomenon known as the urban heat island.

Meteorologists have known for decades that cities can be up to 5°C warmer than the surrounding countryside, thanks to the greater densities of traffic, people, lighting, heating, air conditioning, factories and the thermal properties of tarmac and concrete.

The world’s cities are growing: more than half of all humanity is now crowded into urban areas. Now it seems that urban waste heat could account for hitherto unexplained patterns of warming by 1°C in winter in northern America and northern Asia.

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