Cooling hot cities: a systematic and critical review of the numerical modelling literature

E. Scott Krayenhoff, Ashley M. Broadbent, Lei Zhao, Matei Georgescu, Ariane Middel, James A. Voogt, Alberto Martilli, David J. Sailor, Evyatar Erell

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


Infrastructure-based heat reduction strategies can help cities adapt to high temperatures, but simulations of their cooling potential yield widely varying predictions. We systematically review 146 studies from 1987 to 2017 that conduct physically based numerical modelling of urban air temperature reduction resulting from green-blue infrastructure and reflective materials. Studies are grouped into two modelling scales: neighbourhood scale, building-resolving (i.e. microscale); and city scale, neighbourhood-resolving (i.e. mesoscale). Street tree cooling has primarily been assessed at the microscale, whereas mesoscale modelling has favoured reflective roof treatments, which are attributed to model physics limitations at each scale. We develop 25 criteria to assess contextualization and reliability of each study based on metadata reporting and methodological quality, respectively. Studies have shortcomings with respect to neighbourhood characterization, reporting areal coverages of heat mitigation implementations, evaluation of base case simulations, and evaluation of modelled physical processes relevant to heat reduction. To aid comparison among studies, we introduce two metrics: the albedo cooling effectiveness (ACE), and the vegetation cooling effectiveness (VCE). A sub-sample of 47 higher quality studies suggests that high reflectivity coatings or materials offer ≈0.2 °C-0.6 °C cooling per 0.10 neighbourhood albedo increase, and that trees yield ≈0.3 °C cooling per 0.10 canopy cover increase, for afternoon clear-sky summer conditions. VCE of low vegetation and green roofs varies more strongly between studies. Both ACE and VCE exhibit a striking dependence on model choice and model scale, particularly for albedo and roof-level implementations, suggesting that much of the variation of cooling magnitudes between studies may be attributed to model physics representation. We conclude that evaluation of the base case simulation is not a sufficient prerequisite for accurate simulation of heat mitigation strategy cooling. We identify a three-phase framework for assessment of the suitability of a numerical model for a heat mitigation experiment, which emphasizes assessment of urban canopy layer mixing and of the physical processes associated with the heat reduction implementation. Based on our findings, we include recommendations for optimal design and communication of urban heat mitigation simulation studies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number053007
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 May 2021


  • Urban heat mitigation
  • albedo
  • green infrastructure
  • reflectivity
  • simulation
  • temperature reduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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