The research, the first computer modeling study to simulate the impacts of white roofs on urban areas worldwide, suggests there may be merit to an idea advanced by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu and other policymakers that white roofs can be an important tool to help society adjust to climate change.
But the study team cautions that there are still many hurdles between the concept and actual use of white roofs to counteract rising temperatures.
"Our research demonstrates that white roofs, at least in theory, can be an effective method for reducing urban heat," says Keith Oleson, the lead author of the study and a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). "It remains to be seen if it's actually feasible for cities to paint their roofs white, but the idea certainly warrants further investigation."
The new study has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).
Cities are particularly vulnerable to climate change because they are warmer than outlying rural areas. Asphalt roads, tar roofs, and other artificial surfaces absorb heat from the Sun, creating an urban "heat island effect" that can raise temperatures on average by 1 to 3 degrees Celsius (2 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit) or more compared to rural areas. White roofs would reflect some of that heat back into space and cool temperatures, much as wearing a white shirt on a sunny day can be cooler than wearing a dark shirt.
The study team used a newly developed computer model to simulate the amount of solar radiation that is absorbed or reflected by urban surfaces. The model simulations, which provide scientists with an idealized view of different types of cities around the world, indicate that, if every roof were entirely painted white, the urban heat island effect could be reduced by 33 percent. This would cool the world's cities by an average of about 0.4 degrees Celsius (0.7 degrees Fahrenheit), with the cooling influence being particularly pronounced during the day, especially in summer.
The authors emphasize that their research should be viewed as a hypothetical look at typical city landscapes rather than the actual rooftops of any one city. In the real world, the cooling impact might be somewhat less because dust and weathering would cause the white paint to darken over time and parts of roofs would remain unpainted because of openings such as heating and cooling vents.
In addition, white roofs would have the effect of cooling temperatures within buildings. As a result, depending on the local climate, the amount of energy used for space heating and air conditioning could change, which could affect both outside air temperatures and the consumption of fossil fuels such as oil and coal that are associated with global warming. Depending on whether air conditioning or heating is affected more, this could either magnify or partially offset the impact of the roofs.
"It's not as simple as just painting roofs white and cooling off a city," Oleson says.
The research indicates that some cities would benefit more than others from white roofs, depending on such factors as the city's location and design:- Roof density. Cities where roofs make up more of the urban surface area would cool more.
- Location. White roofs tend to have a larger impact in relatively warm climates that receive strong, year-round sunlight.
While the model did not have enough detail to capture individual cities, it did show the change in temperatures in larger metropolitan regions. The New York area, for example, would cool in summer afternoons by almost 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit).
The study team used a new computer model, developed by Oleson and colleagues, which is designed to assess the impacts of a changing climate on urban populations and explore options for countering rising temperatures. This urban canyon model simulates temperature changes in city landscapes, capturing such factors as the influence of roofs, walls, streets, and green spaces on local temperatures. Oleson has successfully linked it to a computer simulation of worldwide climate, the NCAR-based Community Climate System Model, thereby enabling researchers to study the interactions between global climate change and urban areas.
The new model does not yet have the power to replicate the architecture and design of specific cities. Instead, the research team created abstractions of cities in the model, using classes of population density, urban design, and building construction. Oleson and his colleagues plan to continue refining the model to provide more information for policymakers concerned about protecting urban populations from the risks associated with heat waves and other changes in climate.
"It's critical to understand how climate change will affect vulnerable urban areas, which are home to most of the world's population," says NCAR scientist Gordon Bonan, a co- author of the study.
This study was funded by the National Science Foundation, NCAR's sponsor.
Maria-Jose Vinas | American Geophysical Union
Global study of world's beaches shows threat to protected areas
19.07.2018 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
NSF-supported researchers to present new results on hurricanes and other extreme events
19.07.2018 | National Science Foundation
A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.
The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...
For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.
To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...
For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.
Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...
Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.
A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...
Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.
"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....
13.07.2018 | Event News
12.07.2018 | Event News
03.07.2018 | Event News
20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
20.07.2018 | Information Technology
20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences