Quantification of the Environmental Impacts of Urban Green Roofs

  • Andrew Speak

Student thesis: Phd


Urban populations worldwide are expanding rapidly and consequently a large number of people are becoming exposed to hazards inherent in cites. Phenomena such as the urban heat island can exacerbate the effects of heatwaves, and land surface sealing can lead to flash flooding. Cities are also the sites of enhanced air and water pollution from non-point sources such as concentrated motor vehicle use. Climate change predictions for the UK include increased winter precipitation and an increase in frequency of summer heatwaves. This will put further pressure on urban residents and infrastructure. Roof greening can be used within climate change adaptation schemes because green roofs have a range of environmental benefits which can help urban infrastructure become more sustainable.This thesis empirically quantifies several of these benefits, and the processes influencing them, by monitoring real green roofs in Manchester. A number of novel discoveries were made. Green roofs act as passive filters of airborne particulate matter. 0.21 tonnes of PM10 (2.3% of the inputs) could be removed from Manchester city centre in a maximum extensive green roof scenario. Species and site differences in particle capture were exhibited and related to morphology and proximity to sources respectively. An intensive green roof was able to lower the monthly median overlying air temperature at 300 mm by up to 1.06 oC. A combination of drought and mismanagement caused damage to the vegetation on one of the green roofs, with a subsequent reduction in the cooling effect. Daytime air temperatures were higher than over an adjacent bare roof for a larger proportion of the day than over the undamaged roof, and lower cooling was observed at night.A site-specific methodology was devised to monitor the rainwater runoff from an intensive green roof and an adjacent bare roof. Average runoff retention of 65.7% was observed on the green roof, compared to 33.6% on the bare roof. Season and rainfall amount had significant impacts on retention, however, many other explanatory variables such as Antecedent Dry Weather Period (ADWP) and peak rainfall intensity had no demonstrable, significant impact. Intensive roof construction on 10% of the rooftops in Manchester city centre would increase annual rainfall retention by 2.3%. The runoff was characterised with regards to heavy metals and nutrients. Nutrient levels were found to be not a significant problem for water quality, however, Environmental Quality Standards (EQS) values for protection of freshwater were exceeded for concentrations of Cu, Pb and Zn. High metal concentrations within the sediments may be acting as sources of pollution, particularly in the case of Pb. The age of the green roof means that past atmospheric deposition of Pb could be contributing to the runoff quality.The multi-benefit aspect of green roofs is discussed in the light of the results of this thesis and recommendations made for policy makers and the green roof construction industry.
Date of Award31 Dec 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorSarah Lindley (Supervisor), Claire Smith (Supervisor) & James Rothwell (Supervisor)


  • Flood risk
  • Manchester
  • Air Pollution
  • Green Infrastructure
  • Urban Heat Island
  • Climate change adaptation
  • Green roofs

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