Unit 3. Urban Water - Atmospheric Environment Interactions
Unit 3 addresses concepts related to urban-atmosphere interactions. The content explores how urban landscapes and atmospheric constituents modify or interact with the atmosphere to affect temperature, clouds, rainfall, and other parts of the water cycle. Fundamental concepts of weather and climate are established. The unit then transitions to focus on the "urbanized" environment and its complex interactions with the atmosphere. Students will learn about interactions such as 1) urban modification of surface temperature and energy exchanges; 2) water cycle components; 3) cloud-rainfall evolution within urban environments; and 4) applications to real societal challenges like urban flooding. The unit integrates basic meteorological/climatological analyses, geospatial thinking, and integration of scientific concepts within a real world context.
After completing Unit 3, students will be able to:
- Identify the atmospheric components of the water cycle
- Explain the impact of urbanization on weather, climate, and the water cycle
- Differentiate between an urban heat island and an urban climate archipelago
- Use geo-visualization and scientific analysis software to apply systems thinking to urban-climate interactions
Context for Use
Unit 3 complements other components of the module and is targeted at mid- to upper-level undergraduate or introductory graduate courses in geoscience, applied/urban climatology, or meteorology/climatology. Like previous units, elements of this unit can find broader application in the environmental sciences and studies. There is no discipline-specific prerequisite required since the science content is basic and fundamental in nature. Pre- and in-class reading materials and videos are available as pdf files and web-based videos. The in-class activity is designed to be conducted in a classroom with computers. The lesson could be adapted for use in an online setting. The activity is structured around a 75-minute class period with several hours of supporting work out of class, including pre-class readings and a post-class assignment. There is flexibility to adjust the unit to accommodate class times that vary.
Urban-atmosphere interactions are an ideal context for teaching fundamental geoscience and environmental grand challenges. Specifically, this lesson is strongly aligned with grand challenges related to climate variability, biogeochemical cycles, hydrologic forecasting, and land use/land cover change. However, Unit 3 is also designed with a pedagogical lens that is consistent with an array of national educational standards. Inquiry is both a pedagogical strategy and a learning goal. Students engaged in inquiry-based learning construct their own knowledge by: asking scientifically oriented questions, planning investigations, using appropriate tools and techniques to gather data, formulating explanations from appropriate evidence, and critically evaluating and communicating results. Herein, Unit 3 merges geoscience methods of inquiry with contemporary technology to provide an immersive learning framework on the urban-weather-climate system. We also, where possible, try to adhere to the NOAA suggested Essential Principles for Climate Literacy.
Description and Teaching Materials
Overview of Unit 3: Urban–Atmosphere Interactions
- Atmospheric components of the water cycle
- Impact of urbanization on climate
- Effects of urban growth on weather and climate
- Difference between an urban heat island and an urban climate archipelago
- Utilization of interactive, geospatial analysis tools
Note: A computer with access to the internet will be required for this unit.
Read the following overview reading materials on broader climate processes, urbanization-climate, and the water cycle:
- Global Urban Land Use Trends and Climate Impacts by Seto and Shepherd.
View a NASA-developed video synopsis of the complexities of weather, water, and climate: Earth's Water Cycle
Learn about Urban Climate Archipelagos discussed in the earthzine.org article Urban Climate Archipelagos: A New Framework for Urban Impacts on Climate (Shepherd et al., 2013). UCA concepts will be addressed in the in-class lesson as well.
Incorporating flipped classroom philosophy, review the PowerPoint lessons (available below as pdf files) on water cycle, urban climate and climate changes (global to urban). These lectures will develop a fundamental background essential for the geophysical data project and the conceptualization/consulting project to be conducted in-class.
- Water and Climate (Acrobat (PDF) 2.1MB Jul8 16)
- Urban Climate (Acrobat (PDF) 4.3MB Jul8 16)
Administer Pre-Module Quiz
Urban Water - Atmospheric Environment Interactions Pre-Assessment Quiz (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 62kB Jul8 16)
- How does an urban climate archipelago differ from an urban heat island?
- List three reasons why a city may have an urban heat island.
- Which of the following water cycle processes is not directly modified by urbanization?
- groundwater storage
- The heaviest 1% of rainfall events are now more intense due to changing climate (National Climate Assessment report 2014).
- Urban impervious surfaces are increasing.
(40 min) Geophysical data analysis
Use of authentic and credible geoscience data is employed to expose the student to actual climate and urban-atmosphere interactions. Using the ClimateWizard tool, students will assess precipitation and temperature variability around cities using actual PRISM gridded climatological datasets, GIS layers, and models.
The lesson involves the following.
1. Visit Climate Wizard (http://www.climatewizard.org/)
2. Select the state of Georgia and zoom in to the city of Atlanta.
3. Select time period "Past 50 years"
The assignment is to examine maps of "average" and "changes" in average precipitation and temperature around Atlanta, Georgia. The students should plot maps of change for both variables for the following time periods:
The students should be able to discuss the overall changes of temperature and precipitation (and trends) as a function of season around the city. Students will also be expected to consider the basic interactions among various systems (hydro-, anthro-,bio-,atmo-) to explain interesting patterns/distributions and what physical reasons might explain them (urban, topography, other factors). This is an important manifestation of the systems thinking mandate of the rubric.
Instructor guidance is available:
(35 min) See Summative Assessment Activity in the Assessment section below.
Teaching Notes and Tips
This lesson integrates flipped and traditional classrooms, data analysis, and inquiry-based learning concepts. The instructor may modify timing and components of the plan as needed. The Climate Wizard exercise is an essential component of the unit and should not be truncated if possible.
Activity 2: Summative Assessment - This is an activity that utilizes Faculty-Coached Learning. This activity builds on the systems thinking paradigm and challenges students to apply their basic knowledge. In this activity, small student groups act as a consulting company tasked with providing a strategic plan for how to (1) map the city's urban heat island and (2) determine what months are likely to experience urban flooding.
The students will also be asked to revisit the concept of Urban Climate Archipelagos (UCAs) from the pre-class assignments. Students should then read the article By 2060, the American South Could Be Three Times as Urbanized (by Laura Bliss, 2014; available on the City Lab website), and review figures (b) and (c). The students should reflect on how many possible UCAs may emerge in the coming decades within the Southeastern United States.
Students should lay out their presentations in a persuasive and compelling slide that discusses what the weather or climate implications of the UCAs identified could be.
Formative Assessment: Pre- and post-quizzes as well as activity questions are presented as a part of the module. An
References and Resources
In addition to the links and references specified in the unit, the following resources are also useful:
- EPA's Heat Island Page
- Recent National Academy Report on Urban Meteorology (free download)
- International Association of Urban Climatology
- The USGS Water School