Thursday, 13 February 2003
The impact of urbanization on the precipitation component of the water cycle: A new perspective
It is estimated that by the year 2025, 80% of the world’s population will live in cities (UNFP, 1999). As cities continue to grow, urban sprawl (e.g., the expansion of urban surfaces outward into rural surroundings) creates unique problems related to land use, transportation, agriculture, housing, pollution, and development. Urban expansion also has measurable impacts on environmental processes. Urban areas modify boundary layer processes through the creation of an urban heat island (UHI). The literature indicates that the signature of the "urban heat island effect" may be resolvable in rainfall patterns over and downwind of metropolitan areas. However, a recent U.S. Weather Research Program panel concluded that more observational and modeling research is needed in this area (Dabberdt et al. 2000). NASA and other agencies initiated programs such as the Atlanta Land-use Analysis: Temperature and Air Quality Project (ATLANTA) (Quattrochi et al. 1998) which aimed to identify and understand how urban heat islands impact the environment. However, a comprehensive assessment of the role of urban-induced rainfall in the global water and energy cycle (GWEC) and cycling of freshwater was not a primary focus of these efforts. NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise (ESE) seeks to develop a scientific understanding of the Earth system and its response to natural or human-induced changes to enable improved prediction capability for climate, weather, and natural hazards (NASA, 2000). Within this mission, the ESE has three basic thrusts: science research to increase Earth system knowledge; an applications program to transfer science knowledge to practical use in society; and a technology program to enable new, better, and cheaper capabilities for observing the earth. Within this framework, a research program is underway to further address the co-relationship between land cover use and change (e.g. urban development) and its impact on key components of the GWEC (e.g., precipitation).
This presentation discusses the feasibility of using the TRMM or GPM satellites to identify precipitation anomalies likely caused by urbanization (Shepherd et al. 2002). Recent results from analyses of TRMM data around several major U.S. cities (e.g. Dallas, Atlanta, Houston) will be discussed. The presentation also summarizes a NASA-funded research effort to investigate the phenomenon of urban-induced precipitation anomalies using TRMM (future GPM) satellite-based remote sensing, an intensive ground observation/validation effort near Atlanta, and coupled atmosphere-land numerical modeling techniques. These efforts offers real possibilities for improving our understanding of how the GWEC responds to land cover use and change (LCUC), what the implications of inadequate representation of urban surfaces in mesoscale forecast models are, and what potential new societal benefits can be derived from this knowledge.