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Flip-Flop of Diurnal and Seasonal Surface Urban Heat Island Intensity in India

Tuesday, January 10, 2017
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Mumbai: The difference between the land surface temperature (LST) of urban regions and that of adjacent non-urban regions, termed Surface Urban Heat Island Intensity (SUHII), is commonly believed to be positive, from solar radiation absorption by urban concrete structures. A recent study, using a 13 year land surface temperature record from satellite sensors, has revealed an unexpected negative SUHII over a majority of Indian cities during March to May daytime, as well as, a reversal in the sign of SUHII between day-night and summer-winter. The study, published in Scientific Reports (Nature Publishing Group), is performed by Prof. Subimal Ghosh, Prof. Chandra Venkataraman and their doctoral students Hiteshri Shastri, Beas Barik and Pankaj Sadavarte of the Inter-Disciplinary Program in Climate Studies, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB).
During March to May daytime, a negative SUHII was found to occur over majority of cities in interior India, indicating cooler urban land surface than adjacent non-urban land surface, opposite to common expectation of a positive SUHII. This was attributed to lower vegetation cover over non-urban than urban regions, detected by satellite, leading to higher evapo-transpiration and latent heat fluxes from urban regions, with subsequent decrease in their land surface temperatures.  Interestingly, the sign of the SUHII switched to positive during nighttime, from the cessation of evapo-tranpiration cooling and thermal storage in urban concrete structures. Further, during December to February, vegetation cover was found to be greater over non-urban than contiguous urban regions, resulting in evaporative cooling of the former, therefore higher urban land temperature and positive SUHII. Further, during winter, higher emissions of radiation absorbing pollution particles, containing black carbon, from biomass burning for cooking and heating, in urban regions with high population density, could result in warming surface air, with possible positive feedback to land surface temperature. Thus, seasonal and diurnal patterns in the sign of SUHII were linked to seasonal conversion of barren land to crop land in non-urban regions in winter, while links to seasonally varying black carbon emissions need further study.
The implications of this work are that, during March to May, when land surface temperature is at its annual maximum, the intensities of daytime heat-waves could be higher in majority of non-urban regions in India, compared to those in adjacent urban regions. This is in contrast to common understanding of urban vs non-urban climate and SUHII in tropical regions around the world. Increasing availability of public health facilities to combat health hazards from heat waves, in non-urban regions, must be considered seriously as part of disaster mitigation policy in India. 
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