Study links urbanization, future heat-related mortality

May 30, 2014

Rising temperatures and urban growth could mean more deaths and hospital visits in Maricopa County

Phoenix stands at a parched crossroads. Global scale climate change is forecast to bring hotter summers and more extreme heat to the Valley, but regional urbanization also will impact temperatures experienced by residents. Phoenix skyline at night Download Full Image

So how should Phoenix grow knowing that such growth could cause temperatures to increase in the future and bring added health risks? Should the city deploy mitigating technologies to help fight summer’s heat? Would adopting a low-growth strategy reduce the adverse health consequences of hot weather?

New Arizona State University research examines the heat-health aspects resulting from urbanization and the challenge of sustainable future growth in Maricopa County. A study released this week shows how urban development could be a factor in the number of lives lost due to heat in future summers. The study is described in the article “Challenges associated with projecting urbanization-induced heat-related mortality,” published in the current online issue of the journal Science of the Total Environment.

“Extreme heat is the leading weather-related killer in the United States,” said David Hondula, a postdoctoral scholar in health informatics in ASU’s Center for Policy Informatics and lead author of the study. “In Maricopa County, we see more than 100 premature deaths and hundreds of excess emergency department visits as a result of high temperatures each summer. Understanding how different urban development strategies will impact the health risks associated with heat can help long-term planners and public officials make more informed decisions that lead to sustainable and healthy cities.”

In the research, the team tried to quantify the number of excess deaths attributed to heat in Maricopa County based on three future urbanization and adaptation scenarios and multiple exposure variables. Two scenarios (low and high growth projections) represent the maximum possible uncertainty range associated with urbanization in central Arizona; a third represents an adaptation strategy by simulating the deployment of white roof technology to the area.

The researchers – who, in addition to Hondula, included Matei Georgescu and Robert C. Balling Jr., both of ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning – related temperature to mortality using historical data from 1983-2007. Regional climate model simulations based on 2050-projected urbanization scenarios for Maricopa County generated distributions of temperature change, and from these changes, future excess heat-related mortality was estimated. They studied Maricopa County because it is a fast growing metropolitan area situated in a semi-arid region that experiences “chronic” heat during the summer months.

Overall, projections of heat-related mortality ranged from a decrease of 46 deaths per year (-95 percent) to an increase of 339 deaths per year (+359 percent). Projections based on minimum temperature showed the greatest increase for all expansion and adaptation scenarios, and were substantially higher than those for daily mean temperature. Projections based on maximum temperature were largely associated with declining mortality. Low growth and adaptation scenarios led to the smallest increase in predicted heat-related mortality based on mean temperature projections.

Because of the environment in which it is built, increases in overnight minimum temperatures in Maricopa County associated with urbanization were found to be of much greater concern for health impacts compared to increases in daytime maximum temperatures. The same would be true in many other cities located in semi-arid regions.

“Future urbanization will lead to slightly lower summer daytime maximum temperatures in the urban core of Maricopa County compared to the surrounding natural landscape because of the high heat-retaining capacity of the built environment,” Matei Georgescu said. “Continued growth would enhance this effect in the future, leading to further declines in daytime highs and associated declines in health risks. The tradeoff is that nighttime temperatures increase significantly with urbanization, and this nighttime warming is much greater than the expected daytime cooling.”

Hondula added that what this means for planners is that because heat impacts vary from day to night, projections of heat-related health outcomes that do not consider place-based, time varying urban heat island effects are “neglecting essential elements for policy relevant decision-making.”

“The manner in which the Sun Corridor develops over the next several decades will impact the regional climate and, if no new adaptation measures are introduced, change the health risks for Maricopa County residents associated with extreme heat,” Hondula said. “The greatest health concern comes from large expected increases in nighttime temperatures, which could be mitigated by lower-growth scenarios.

“The next step is to look more closely at the conditions people experience on hot days, to ultimately determine if high maximum temperatures, minimum temperatures or some combination of the two is the real culprit leading to adverse health events,” he added.

Director, Media Relations and Strategic Communications


Guitars for Vets graduates first ASU student veterans

May 30, 2014

As the familiar lyrics to the Dylan-inspired “Wagon Wheel” filled the Pat Tillman Veterans Center at Arizona State University, two student veterans shared their voices and a sentimental moment strumming new guitars they had just received:

“So rock me momma like a wagon wheel,
Rock me momma any way you feel,
Hey momma, rock me.” people playing guitars Download Full Image

The first ASU student veterans to complete the 10-week Guitars for Vets program, Jonathan Jameson and Jason Smith were presented with the stringed instruments by professor Mark von Hagen, director for ASU’s new Office of Veteran and Military Academic Engagement. A former Marine, Jameson is a 2014 ASU graduate, receiving his bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with a communication concentration in the School of Letters and Sciences. Smith served in the U.S. Army and is an ASU junior majoring in art studies in the Herberger Institute School of Art.

A third student veteran earning a guitar, John Luebke, was on a study-abroad program and unable to attend the pre-Memorial Day ceremony and reception. He is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and an ASU junior majoring in history in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Smith recalled that near the end of his tour in Iraq, he found a guitar that he cleaned up, fixed and started teaching himself to play. It was something he could share with his fellow soldiers.

“Having the Guitars for Vets program helped me reconnect with that sense of calmness and feeling that I haven’t really had since I left Iraq,” he explained. “Having other soldiers or service members around to play music alongside of you is a great feeling.”

Begun as a groundbreaking partnership in 2013, the unique pairing of the ASU School of Music with the Tempe chapter of Guitars for Vets is the first of its kind for the national non-profit organization. Based in Milwaukee, Guitars for Vets, Inc. has 30 chapters that enhance the lives of ailing and injured military veterans by providing them with guitars and music instruction.

ASU’s Music Therapy Clinic in the School of Music and the Phoenix Chapter of Guitars for Vets initially teamed up to help train six veterans from the local area. As they built musical skills and relationships, they also discovered new ways to cope with stress and improve their quality of life after military service.

“Of course, a lot of veterans have trouble expressing their problems or their accomplishments,” said von Hagen. “And the arts – whether it’s poetry or writing or music or theater – offer a space where human beings can communicate with other human beings and get to know each other.”

This past semester was the first time veterans who were students at ASU completed the Guitars for Vets training. Behind the scenes, the program credits its success to a collaboration of ASU music therapy faculty, graduate students, recent Guitars for Vets graduates and Phoenix Chapter leaders.

“As the Guitars for Vets pilot class, these three student veterans deserve our thanks for their determination and willingness to try a new approach to veteran community building at ASU,” said Robin Rio, associate professor of music therapy and director of ASU’s Music Therapy Clinic.

Jameson said participating in the Guitars for Vets program, described as “the healing power of music in the hands of heroes,” has been a way to help transition out of the military and back into civilian life.

“I’ve participated in a few programs in terms of hanging out with other veterans,” he explained. “You can share your stories and express things that you wouldn’t be able to talk about with other people.”