Heat-related mortality is one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths in the United States. With changing climates and an aging population, effective adaptive strategies to address public health and environmental justice issues associated with extreme heat will be increasingly important. One effective adaptive strategy for reducing heat-related mortality is increasing tree cover. Designing such a strategy requires decision-support tools that provide spatial and temporal information about impacts. We apply such a tool to estimate spatially and temporally explicit reductions in temperature and mortality associated with a 10% increase in tree cover in 10 U. S. cities with varying climatic, demographic, and land cover conditions. Two heat metrics were applied to represent tree impacts on moderately and extremely hot days (relative to historical conditions). Increasing tree cover by 10% reduced estimated heat-related mortality in cities significantly, with total impacts generally greatest in the most populated cities. Mortality reductions vary widely across cities, ranging from approximately 50 fewer deaths in Salt Lake City to about 3800 fewer deaths in New York City. This variation is due to differences in demographics, land cover, and local climatic conditions. In terms of per capita estimated impacts, hotter and drier cities experience higher percentage reductions in mortality due to increased tree cover across the season. Phoenix potentially benefits the most from increased tree cover, with an estimated 22% reduction in mortality from baseline levels. In cooler cities such as Minneapolis, trees can reduce mortality significantly on days that are extremely hot relative to historical conditions and therefore help mitigate impacts during heat wave conditions. Recent studies project highest increases in heat-related mortality in the cooler cities, so our findings have important implications for adaptation planning. Our estimated spatial and temporal distributions of mortality reductions for each city provide crucial information needed for promoting environmental justice and equity. More broadly, the methods and model can be applied by both urban planners and the public health community for designing targeted, effective policies to reduce heat-related mortality. Additionally, land use managers can use this information to optimize tree plantings. Public stakeholders can also use these impact estimates for advocacy.
Variation in estimates of heat-related mortality reduction due to tree cover in US cities