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Climate Change, Heatwaves, and Health: Local Tools for Sustainability, Equity, and Prevention

This graphic illustrates the urban heat island effect.

Heat is one of the principal weather-related causes of mortality in the U.S., taking a disproportionate toll on the elderly, the poor, and racial minorities. While heatwave health warning systems (HHWS), heat island mitigation through tree planting and other measures, and other programs administered by local governments can improve quality of life, foster environmental sustainability, and protect public health during heatwaves, few systematic studies of how these programs can be successfully implemented exist.

Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of heat events in urban environments. Using Detroit, Michigan, as a case study, this multidisciplinary team examined disparities in heat exposure and heat-related health effects and evaluated heat wave preparedness in the City. The team’s work included:

  • An interview-based needs assessment among residents and government officials
  • Development of a ‘heat vulnerability mapping’ decision support tool that maps several information sources at fine spatial-scale (e.g., temperature data, satellite images of land-cover relevant to heat exposure, and demographic vulnerability indicators)
  • Design of a prototype simple, inexpensive HHWS that could be implemented in Detroit
  • Validation of the HHWS using historical health outcome data

This work filled an important knowledge gap related to our understanding of heat wave preparedness, and it yielded new ideas for sustainable approaches for adapting to climate change, provided critical pilot data for future grant proposals, and provided lessons applicable to other cities where programs to address climate change and health issues, including HHWS, are nascent or nonexistent.

Marie O’Neill – School of Public Health
Richard Rood – College of Engineering
Daniel Brown – School of Natural Resources & Environment
Edith Parker – School of Public Health