Strip Malls, Subdivisions & Too Much Paving Means Houston's Air Quality Suffering

houston photo

photo: Bill Bradford/Creative Commons

Reason number 4,806 that suburban style development (either in suburbia itself or in the great swaths of American 'cities' that might as well be gigantic parking lots): New research coming out of the National Center for Atmospheric Research shows that the nation's penchant for the strip mall, the subdivision, and ample parking in front means may be interfering with air circulation in coastal cities needed to clear away smog and other air pollution.Using Houston as an example (Science Codex), NCAR's Fei Chen says:

The developed area of Houston has a major impact on local air pollution. If the city continues to expand, it's going to make the winds even weaker in the summertime, and that will make air pollution much worse.

air circulation houston photo

Here's how it works: Paved surfaces in the Houston area keep the city warmer than more natural surfaces. As a result, overnight temperatures are often similar between the city and the nearby offshore areas, which weakens summertime breezes and enables air pollution to build up. The stagnant conditions also persist during the day because of larger-scale wind patterns. Image and caption: UCAR

The study authors making Houston greener and building more lakes and ponds to mitigate the situation.

They also note that more research is required to see if similar situations exist in other coastal, mid-latitude cities following Houston's development model.

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