This study uses the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model to simulate and predict the changes in local climate attributed to the urbanization for five desert cities. The simulations are performed in the fashion of climate downscaling, constrained by the surface boundary conditions generated from high resolution land-use maps. For each city, the land-use maps of 1985 and 2010 from Landsat satellite observation, and a projected land-use map for 2030, are used to represent the past, present, and future. An additional set of simulations for Las Vegas, the largest of the five cities, uses the NLCD 1992 and 2006 land-use maps and an idealized historical land-use map with no urban coverage for 1900.
The study finds that urbanization in Las Vegas produces a classic urban heat island (UHI) at night but a minor cooling during the day. A further analysis of the surface energy balance shows that the decrease in surface Albedo and increase effective emissivity play an important role in shaping the local climate change over urban areas. The emerging urban structures slow down the diurnal wind circulation over the city due to an increased effective surface roughness. This leads to a secondary modification of temperature due to the interaction between the mechanical and thermodynamic effects of urbanization.
The simulations for the five desert cities for 1985 and 2010 further confirm a common pattern of the climatic effect of urbanization with significant nighttime warming and moderate daytime cooling. This effect is confined to the urban area and is not sensitive to the size of the city or the detail of land cover in the surrounding areas. The pattern of nighttime warming and daytime cooling remains robust in the simulations for the future climate of the five cities using the projected 2030 land-use maps. Inter-city differences among the five urban areas are discussed.