Houston: All That Pavement Makes Us Hotter, More Polluted

You used to hate Houston's ever-growing amount of pavement for increasing flooding and general ugliness. Now you can hate it for making you sweat and breathe bad air.

A major new study of the Houston area says "the proliferation of strip malls, subdivisions, and other paved areas may interfere with breezes needed to clear away smog and other pollution."

The study by an international team led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research used atmospheric data and computer modeling to show how we're screwed.

They found that, because pavement soaks up heat and keeps land areas relatively warm overnight, the contrast between land and sea temperatures is reduced during the summer. This in turn causes a reduction in nighttime winds.

In addition, built structures interfere with local winds and contribute to relatively stagnant afternoon weather conditions.

"The developed area of Houston has a major impact on local air pollution," says NCAR scientist Fei Chen. "If the city continues to expand, it's going to make the winds even weaker in the summertime, and that will make air pollution much worse."

Here's how the study fetchingly describes our beautiful town: "Houston, known for its mix of petrochemical facilities, sprawling suburbs, and traffic jams that stretch for miles, has some of the highest levels of ground-level ozone and other air pollutants in the United States."

Thanks!

The study suggests more parks and green areas.

"If you made the city greener and created lakes and ponds, then you probably would have less air pollution even if emissions stayed the same," Chen explains. "The nighttime temperatures over the city would be lower and winds would become stronger, blowing the pollution out to the Gulf of Mexico."

But where would all the strip malls go?

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Richard Connelly
Contact: Richard Connelly