The Effect of Trees and Grass on the Thermal and Hydrological Performance of an Urban Area

  • David Armson

    Student thesis: Phd


    The process of urbanization dramatically alters the landscape which can have negative effects on the environment, and thereby, places the inhabitants and the city itself at risk. The development of an urban heat island can have severe health implications for city inhabitants during prolonged heat waves. Urbanisation also alters hydrological processes, which can place urban areas at a greater threat of surface flooding during heavy rainfall. As cities are continuing to expand, and as climate change proceeds, these problems are only likely to be exacerbated and there is a need to find ways to reduce these negative effects.This thesis builds upon previous modelling work on the effect of greenspace on the climate and hydrology of Manchester, U.K. The aims were to test the predictions of this model by investigating the effect of trees and grass in reducing surface temperatures and rainfall runoff, and further investigate their effects on air and globe temperatures. Surface, globe, and air temperatures were measured on grass and concrete areas in full sun and tree shade, both under large tree canopies, and below those of a range of street tree species. The rainfall runoff from experimental plots covered in asphalt, asphalt plus a tree and grass, was also investigated. Grass reduced surface temperatures in full sun by up to 24°C, in good agreement with previous models, but permanent tree shade reduced concrete temperatures by almost as much, up to 19°C. Tree shade also reduced globe temperatures by up to 7°C, a reduction which can improve human comfort on hot day. These results indicate that both forms of vegetation will act regionally, reducing the urban heat island effect, but that trees can dramatically improve the local environmental conditions. Street trees reduced surface and globe temperatures by rather less, 12°C and 4°C respectively, though trees with a higher leaf area index provided greater cooling. Because of advection neither trees nor small areas of grass had an effect on local air temperatures.Grass was most effective vegetation type at preventing rainfall runoff, reducing runoff coefficients of the plots from around 60% on asphalt to near zero. However, tree units also reduced the runoff coefficient to around 25%, despite having a canopy that covered only a small proportion of the plot, suggesting that much of the rainfall must have infiltrated into the planting hole. These reductions are higher than predicted by previous modelling, highlighting the importance of greenspace on the hydrology of the urban environment.The results suggest that trees and grass provide complementary environmental benefits in cities, and that the benefits of trees strongly depend on species and planting conditions
    Date of Award31 Dec 2012
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • The University of Manchester
    SupervisorAnthony Ennos (Supervisor)


    • Urban Trees
    • Hydrology
    • Urban Heat Island
    • Human Comfort
    • Mean Radiant Temperature

    Cite this