Distributional Effects: Vulnerability, Resilience and Risk


Research Activities
People and places experience different vulnerabilities to climate change not only due to variations in exposure but also due to different sensitivities and capacities to respond to climatic shocks and stresses.

In the second year of DCDC II, we continued our research on vulnerability to heat stress and adaptation strategies and co-benefits. This work extends the highly productive line of DCDC research on the urban head island in Phoenix (see Chow, Brennan, and Brazel 2012, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society) to examine climate change impacts on extreme heat events. In recent work, Darren Ruddell, former DCDC postdoc and now faculty member with University of Southern California, and colleagues analyzed historical threshold temperatures for central Phoenix to uncover anthropogenic interference in temperature thresholds and historic atmospheric processes (Ruddell et al. in review, Climate Research).

Geographers Patricia Gober and Kelli Larson continued work derived from their NOAA-funded collaboration with Portland State University. Recent research compared vulnerability of water systems in Phoenix, Arizona and Portland, Oregon (Larson et al. in review, Environmental Management). Their analysis compared the two cities on the basis of exposure to climate change and urbanization, sensitivity to the associated impacts, and adaptive capacity to cope with the realized or anticipated impacts. Comparing metropolitan regions that face similar stresses under different land and water management profiles provides insights into the water/land use nexus and implications for integrated planning across land and water domains.

Research Findings
Climate Impacts on Urban Heat Island and Extreme Heat Events
Multiple papers by DCDC researchers have produced new findings and methods for understanding climate impacts on the urban heat island and extreme heat events. Ruddell et al. (in review, Climate Research) documented warming trends among temperature thresholds, resulting in warmer winters, hotter summers, and more intense heat wave conditions; disjointed associations between global climate systems (ENSO and PDO) with frost and misery days, signaling anthropogenic interference between temperature thresholds and historic atmospheric processes; and potentially significant and wide-spread adverse impacts on many local environmental, economic, and social systems as a result of pronounced changes in threshold temperatures. Ruddell also developed a mixed method multi-scale analysis for extreme heat (Ruddell in review, Population and the Environment).


Research Activities
People and places may experience different vulnerabilities to climate change because of variations, not only in exposure, but in sensitivity and capacity to respond to climatic shocks and stresses. In the first year of DCDC II, we extended our research on vulnerability to heat stress.

The expanding and intensifying urban head island partly motivates this work, but takes on added significance as climate change threatens to increase temperatures further. Recent work documents warming in Phoenix and deleterious impacts as critical temperature thresholds are passed. Another study developed an index of vulnerability based on physical exposure to heat stress and adaptive capacity of the population to cope and showed that Phoenix’s minority populations became more vulnerable to excessive heat between 1990 and 2000 (Chow et al. 2011). Sociologist Sharon Harlan and DCDC postdoc Darren Ruddell examined human vulnerabilities and health impacts of heat stress and air quality in cities and the potential co-benefits of mitigation and adaptation strategies (Harlan and Ruddell 2011).

DCDC Researchers: