A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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The Urban Heat Island effect: Could Africa be more affected than the US?

The mystery: We know when we drive through a city that temperatures warm from the fringe to the middle. We know UHI is real, but how much does it affect the official records? Is a 2010 city 0.3 K hotter than a 1960 city? How would we know?

Frank Lansner has come up with a way that might approximate the UHI effect — very roughly. It’s well known that UHI gets bigger as cities grow, but the devil is in the detail. Frank argues that it’s not just the size of the city that matters, but it’s growth rate.

The USA is full of large cities, but there is not much difference between the trend in satellites and ground stations there. Frank’s approach could explain this — most of the growth in human population has come in regions like Africa, not the USA.

He figured that if we compare satellite records to ground stations and see if there is a divergence, we might be able to see an indicator of UHI. The info coming out of satellites ought not be affected as populations expand, but the ground stations are often near population centres and they gradually get surrounded with [...]