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Impact of urbanization and land-use change on climate

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 04 September 2003


The most important anthropogenic influences on climate are the emission of greenhouse gases1 and changes in land use, such as urbanization and agriculture2. But it has been difficult to separate these two influences because both tend to increase the daily mean surface temperature3,4. The impact of urbanization has been estimated by comparing observations in cities with those in surrounding rural areas, but the results differ significantly depending on whether population data5 or satellite measurements of night light6,7,8 are used to classify urban and rural areas7,8. Here we use the difference between trends in observed surface temperatures in the continental United States and the corresponding trends in a reconstruction of surface temperatures determined from a reanalysis of global weather over the past 50 years, which is insensitive to surface observations, to estimate the impact of land-use changes on surface warming. Our results suggest that half of the observed decrease in diurnal temperature range is due to urban and other land-use changes. Moreover, our estimate of 0.27 °C mean surface warming per century due to land-use changes is at least twice as high as previous estimates based on urbanization alone7,8.

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Figure 1: Comparison of monthly mean station and NNR surface temperature anomalies with respect to their annual cycles for the city of Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
Figure 2: Decadal trend of the maximum temperature averaged for every US station below an elevation of 500 m.
Figure 3: Decadal trend of the minimum temperature averaged for every US station below 500 m.

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This study was partially supported by a Risk Prediction Initiative grant. We are grateful to A. Senserini, who performed most of the computations, to J. E. Janowiak and W. Ebisuzaki who provided the data, and to R. Murnane, T. Oke, J. Hansen, E. Rassmusson, R. Pielke Sr, T. vonder Haar and Z. Li for discussions.

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Correspondence to Eugenia Kalnay.

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Kalnay, E., Cai, M. Impact of urbanization and land-use change on climate. Nature 423, 528–531 (2003).

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