Impact of Increasing Urban Density on Local Climate: Spatial and Temporal Variations in the Surface Energy Balance in Melbourne, Australia

Andrew M. Coutts School of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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Jason Beringer School of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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Nigel J. Tapper School of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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Abstract

Variations in urban surface characteristics are known to alter the local climate through modification of land surface processes that influence the surface energy balance and boundary layer and lead to distinct urban climates. In Melbourne, Australia, urban densities are planned to increase under a new strategic urban plan. Using the eddy covariance technique, this study aimed to determine the impact of increasing housing density on the surface energy balance and to investigate the relationship to Melbourne’s local climate. Across four sites of increasing housing density and varying land surface characteristics (three urban and one rural), it was found that the partitioning of available energy was similar at all three urban sites. Bowen ratios were consistently greater than 1 throughout the year at the urban sites (often as high as 5) and were higher than the rural site (less than 1) because of reduced evapotranspiration. The greatest difference among sites was seen in urban heat storage, which was influenced by urban canopy complexity, albedo, and thermal admittance. Resulting daily surface temperatures were therefore different among the urban sites, yet differences in above-canopy daytime air temperatures were small because of similar energy partitioning and efficient mixing. However, greater nocturnal temperatures were observed with increasing density as a result of variations in heat storage release that are in part due to urban canyon morphology. Knowledge of the surface energy balance is imperative for urban planning schemes because there is a possibility for manipulation of land surface characteristics for improved urban climates.

Corresponding author address: Andrew M. Coutts, School of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University, Wellington Rd., Clayton, Victoria 3800, Australia. Email: amcou1@student.monash.edu.au

Abstract

Variations in urban surface characteristics are known to alter the local climate through modification of land surface processes that influence the surface energy balance and boundary layer and lead to distinct urban climates. In Melbourne, Australia, urban densities are planned to increase under a new strategic urban plan. Using the eddy covariance technique, this study aimed to determine the impact of increasing housing density on the surface energy balance and to investigate the relationship to Melbourne’s local climate. Across four sites of increasing housing density and varying land surface characteristics (three urban and one rural), it was found that the partitioning of available energy was similar at all three urban sites. Bowen ratios were consistently greater than 1 throughout the year at the urban sites (often as high as 5) and were higher than the rural site (less than 1) because of reduced evapotranspiration. The greatest difference among sites was seen in urban heat storage, which was influenced by urban canopy complexity, albedo, and thermal admittance. Resulting daily surface temperatures were therefore different among the urban sites, yet differences in above-canopy daytime air temperatures were small because of similar energy partitioning and efficient mixing. However, greater nocturnal temperatures were observed with increasing density as a result of variations in heat storage release that are in part due to urban canyon morphology. Knowledge of the surface energy balance is imperative for urban planning schemes because there is a possibility for manipulation of land surface characteristics for improved urban climates.

Corresponding author address: Andrew M. Coutts, School of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University, Wellington Rd., Clayton, Victoria 3800, Australia. Email: amcou1@student.monash.edu.au

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