Trees and Urban Heat Islands

Trees and Urban Heat Islands

Urban heat islands are created when natural vegetation is replaced with dense concentrations of buildings, pavement and other surfaces that retain heat. This concentration of heat directly correlates with a number of side effects reducing the quality of life for people living in urban areas. Examples of this can include increases in energy costs, greenhouse gas emissions, heat-related illness, stress and even death. In addition to these issues, urban heat islands cause water quality to suffer, since stormwater runoff has less options for places to go, and the heat-retaining pavement increases water temperature. Urban forestry and tree planting can help mitigate and break up heat islands in urban areas by shading buildings and surfaces, deflecting heat, and releasing moisture into the air. These important benefits trees provide are essential to the health of Virginians and the livability of our communities.

Heat Island Mitigation Efforts in Virginia

In July of 2020, Virginia college students from 13 universities in partnership with the Virginia Department of Forestry, Capital One, and the Virginia Science Museum deployed temperature & air quality sensors in urban areas across the state. This effort has since become the largest comprehensive heat island study in the entire country. The goal of this effort was to identify areas with lower tree canopy coverage and develop tree planting project proposals for those areas in an effort to lower the urban heat island effect. Countless trees have been planted in these areas since this study and some projects are still ongoing.

Full List of Participating Schools:

  • Bridgewater College
  • Emory & Henry College
  • Hampden-Sydney College
  • Hollins University
  • Marymount University
  • Randolph College
  • Roanoke College
  • Shenandoah University
  • Sweet Briar College
  • University of Lynchburg
  • University of Richmond
  • Virginia Wesleyan University
  • Virginia State University