Life's warm in California, but that doesn't mean that it's always a beach. Today is March 27th and it's barely the start of spring, yet we're currently in the 90s and four degrees above the anticipated high for the day. And with an ever-changing landscape, going from rural to urban through land conversion, researchers expect for the heat of our situation to continue to rise. But some researchers are hopeful that with new technology and new techniques in urban design, California may be able to keep its cool days and its beach appeal even in the Central Valley.

Publishing their results this week in the Journal of Climate, researchers with Arizona State University's Advanced Computing Center have developed computer-based simulations that accurately depict the future urbanization of California's Central Valley. And while they suggest that California brace itself for substantial population growth, and all of the ramification that that entails, they also are warning about the resulting environmental shifts that this urbanization could entail by generating heat in what researchers call an "urban heat island".

"This research examines for the first time, climate impacts for rapidly expanding urban areas within California exclusively due to anticipated conversion of existing landforms to the built environment, such as variable density residential dwellings and commercial infrastructure," lead author of the study, Matei Georgescu says. "In addition, commonly proposed urban climate adaptation strategies are examined to assess their efficacy in mitigating urban induced warmth."

By applying new technology and techniques for mitigating the urban heat island effect, the researchers say that by being aware of the ramifications throughout the process of urbanization, land conversion experts may be able to avoid drastic changes in heat and environmental backlash by paying special attention to technological implementation in the field. 

"Given that decisions about future land use change in this potentially heavily populated area have yet to be made, it is critical to understand environmental consequences of such development pathways prior to their taking place."

While the primary focus of the study was to look at future changes of the Californian Central Valley and the ramifications of land conversion in this area, Georgescu and his fellow researchers were able to learn a lot from the ensemble-based simulations, much like what the EPA uses to develop its own projections of urban growth. And then by exploring several temperature-mitigating strategies (such as green roofs, cool roofs and hybrid approaches for buildings) the researchers were able to assess the environmental impact of different strategies, and what may be the best options for lawmakers to consider in the future expansion.

"The focus of the study was on those regions of California projected to undergo the greatest conversion to urban land use and covers," Georgescu says. "Modification of large swaths of existing California landscapes to urban areas raises regional climate concerns for future residents."

"The strategies explored in this work and those that are widely considered today as reasonable and practical choices illustrate much greater capability to reduce daytime temperatures, but exhibit little effects during the nighttime hours. So, orientation of buildings and preferred landscape configurations that permit long-wave radiation loss during nighttime hours and directly target impacts associated with urban expansion are critical to examine further."