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Coastal cities disrupt wind patterns, increase air pollution

The proliferation of strip malls and other urban development is altering weather patterns and increasing air pollution in coastal cities as a result, according to a new study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

The study was conducted in and focused on Houston. Researchers noted that paved-over urban areas stay relatively warm at night, reducing the contrast between land and sea temperatures during summer. The result is a drop in nighttime winds that would otherwise help clear polluted air by moving pollutants out over the ocean (see illustration below).

In addition, the study noted, urban building structures, from strip malls to skyscrapers, further interfere with natural winds that develop during the afternoon.

NCAR Scientist Fei Chen, who headed the study, said the results of the study suggest Houston could help alleviate its air pollution problems by adding to its already extensive park system.

“If you made the city greener and created lakes and ponds, then you would probably have less air pollution even if the emissions stayed the same, ” Chen said.

Read more on the NCAR report here.

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