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Heat-related morbidity and thermal comfort: a comparison study of Phoenix and Chicago

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I present the results of studies from two historically separate fields of research: heat related illness and human thermal comfort adaptation. My research objectives were: (a) to analyze the relationships

I present the results of studies from two historically separate fields of research: heat related illness and human thermal comfort adaptation. My research objectives were: (a) to analyze the relationships between climate and heat related morbidity in Phoenix, Arizona and Chicago, Illinois; (b) explore possible linkages of human thermal comfort adaptation to heat-related illness; and (c) show possible benefits of collaboration between the two fields of research. Previous climate and mortality studies discovered regional patterns in summertime mortality in North America: lower in hot, southern cities compared to more temperate cities. I examined heat related emergency (911) dispatches from these two geographically and climatically different cities. I analyzed with local weather conditions with 911 dispatches identified by responders as "heat" related from 2001 to 2006 in Phoenix and 2003 through 2006 in Chicago. Both cities experienced a rapid rise in heat-related dispatches with increasing temperature and heat index, but at higher thresholds in Phoenix. Overall, Phoenix had almost two and half times more heat-related dispatches than Chicago. However, Phoenix did not experience the large spikes of heat-related dispatches that occurred in Chicago. These findings suggest a resilience to heat-related illness that may be linked to acclimatization in Phoenix. I also present results from a survey based outdoor human thermal comfort field study in Phoenix to assess levels of local acclimatization. Previous research in outdoor human thermal comfort in hot humid and temperate climates used similar survey-based methodologies and found higher levels of thermal comfort (adaptation to heat) that in warmer climates than in cooler climates. The study presented in this dissertation found outdoor thermal comfort thresholds and heat tolerance levels in Phoenix were higher than previous studies from temperate climates more similar to Chicago. These differences were then compared to the differences in weather conditions associated with heat-related dispatches. The higher comfort thresholds in Phoenix were similar in scale to the climate differences associated with the upsurge in heat-related dispatches in Phoenix and Chicago. This suggests a link between heat related illness and acclimatization, and illustrates potential for collaboration in research between the two fields.

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  • 2012

Life Cycle Assessment of Ecosystem Services for Phoenix’s Building Stock

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Better methods are necessary to fully account for anthropogenic impacts on ecosystems and the essential services provided by ecosystems that sustain human life. Current methods for assessing sustainability, such as

Better methods are necessary to fully account for anthropogenic impacts on ecosystems and the essential services provided by ecosystems that sustain human life. Current methods for assessing sustainability, such as life cycle assessment (LCA), typically focus on easily quantifiable indicators such as air emissions with no accounting for the essential ecosystem benefits that support human or industrial processes. For this reason, more comprehensive, transparent, and robust methods are necessary for holistic understanding of urban technosphere and ecosphere systems, including their interfaces. Incorporating ecosystem service indicators into LCA is an important step in spanning this knowledge gap.

For urban systems, many built environment processes have been investigated but need to be expanded with life cycle assessment for understanding ecosphere impacts. To pilot these new methods, a material inventory of the building infrastructure of Phoenix, Arizona can be coupled with LCA to gain perspective on the impacts assessment for built structures in Phoenix. This inventory will identify the origins of materials stocks, and the solid and air emissions waste associated with their raw material extraction, processing, and construction and identify key areas of future research necessary to fully account for ecosystem services in urban sustainability assessments. Based on this preliminary study, the ecosystem service impacts of metropolitan Phoenix stretch far beyond the county boundaries. A life cycle accounting of the Phoenix’s embedded building materials will inform policy and decision makers, assist with community education, and inform the urban sustainability community of consequences.

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