Complex Interactions Among Urban Climate, Air Quality, and Adaptive-Reactive Human Response

Interactions among urban climate, air quality, and human activities are complex and replete with feedback mechanisms that are poorly understood. The current framework for investigating how urban planning, policy actions, and regulatory decisions impact targeted outcomes (such as reducing energy consumption and improving air quality and human health in urban areas) is relatively crude, ignoring these complex and non-linear feedback mechanisms.

For example, strategies to mitigate air pollution generally are tested by sequentially linking separate models for meteorology, emissions, and atmospheric chemistry, bypassing human and other feedback mechanisms that act both on short and long time scales. Furthermore, the very nature of the current modeling paradigm makes it difficult to assess potential interactions among endpoints of interest, such as questions regarding whether policy recommendations intended to improve air quality have unintended impacts on health or energy consumption. Consequently, current approaches are severely limited in their ability to assess how population growth, technological change, global climate change, and adaptation may affect the urban environment.

The goal of this interdisciplinary research project is to develop an integrated analysis framework that can be used to evaluate human response to, and impact on, heat waves and episodes of poor air quality. This framework will link models of meteorology, air quality, energy consumption and human response, incorporating feedback mechanisms among individual modules.

The data required to develop and validate this analysis framework will include (1) survey instruments to quantify human activity response functions; (2) field measurement campaigns to spatially resolve air pollution and meteorological conditions; and (3) energy and transportation data to quantify anthropogenic waste heat release profiles.

The scientific objectives of this study will be tightly coupled with the interdisciplinary environmental science and policy education of participants across the educational spectrum (high school students, teachers, undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs and faculty). While the analytical framework developed in this project will be generally applicable to any urban area, it will be implemented for two test sites (Portland Oregon, and Houston Texas) where diverse response characteristics are likely.

This project will provide important insight into the nature and significance of feedback mechanisms among urban climate, air quality, and human activity systems that have been heretofore neglected or not properly accounted for and quantified. In addition to clarifying how human activity levels respond to adverse weather conditions and to health advisories, this research will relate these changes in behavior to their subsequent impacts on urban climate and air quality. Such a comprehensive modeling framework is necessary for evaluating the performance of both short- and long-term policy actions intended to mitigate the harmful effects of adverse weather conditions and pollutant emissions in the urban environment. The resulting framework will be robust, allowing for updating and expansion of individual modules as well as enabling researchers to apply this modeling paradigm to other cities of interest. This project is supported by an award resulting from the FY 2004 special competition in Biocomplexity in the Environment focusing on the Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems.

Lead Investigator: 
meteo, air quality, energy consumpt, human response
Portland Oregon and Houston Texas
Temporal Scope: 
Spatial Scope: 
Natural System: 
temperate terrestrial meteo, atmos chem
Human System: 
urban energy consumption