Use of satellite images for observational and quantitative analysis of urban heat islands around the world

Kaufui V. Wong, Sarmad Chaudhry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Urban heat island intensity (UHII) is calculated as the spatially averaged temperature difference between an urban and its surrounding rural area. This concept, however, provides an umbrella for a range of diversified ideas that include the temperature difference between the densely developed urban area and least developed area or between two different built-up areas. There are also averages for the season, for the year, for multiple years, etc., and UHII quoted for the day and another for the night. The objective of this work is to examine the urban heat island effect for cities around the world, using readily available data. The innovation is in using data from the Landsat satellites for different cities previously not studied. Thermal images of the Earth were obtained and analyzed to produce surface-temperature maps. These maps showed that the temperature in the urban environments were significantly higher than the temperature in the surrounding countryside, a defining characteristic of urban heat island. Furthermore, the urban and rural areas in the images were separated and analyzed individually to quantitatively measure the temperature difference. It was found that the UHII could be 0.3-5.1° C for the eleven cities investigated. Miami and Shenzen are two cities which seem to have been missed in previous studies because they were limited in their scope and responsibilities, and their methods required much more resources for the longer term studies. It is not the claim here that a UHI is definitively established by the analysis presented of the Landsat satellite data. The present work demonstrates the use of a possible planning tool in terms of understanding where urban areas may be subjected to additional heat. Our use of the method shows that a UHI is probably taking place at the time of observation, and precautionary notices should be sent out to the community to take preventative measures to ensure their health and wellbeing. The minimal resources required is the demonstration shown by our work of the usefulness of this method.

Original languageEnglish
Article number042101
JournalJournal of Energy Resources Technology, Transactions of the ASME
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 22 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Fuel Technology
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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