Increasing Human-Perceived Heat Stress Risks Exacerbated by Urbanization in China: A Comparative Study Based on Multiple Metrics

Ming Luo, Ngar Cheung Lau

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73 Scopus citations


More than half of the total population in China are living in cities. Especially, the people in highly developed and spatially integrated city clusters, i.e., urban agglomerations (UAs), are facing increasing human-perceived heat stress that describes the combined effects of hot temperature, high humidity, and lowered surface wind speed. By analyzing multiple indicators over 20 major UAs across China, we demonstrate that summer heat stress has been significantly intensifying in nearly all UAs during 1971–2014. This intensification is more profound in northern than southern regions and is especially stronger in more urbanized and densely populated areas (e.g., Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei and the Yangtze River Delta). Based on a dynamic classification of weather stations using time-varying land use/land cover maps, we find that urban core areas exhibit distinctly stronger increasing heat stress trends than their surrounding rural areas. On average, urbanization contributes to approximately one-quarter of the total increase in mean heat stress over urban core areas of UAs and nearly half of the total increase in extreme heat stress events. The urbanization effect is also dependent on the geographical region within China. Urbanization tends to have stronger intensifying effects on heat stress in UAs with higher population density in low-altitude areas, while it has a relatively weaker intensifying and even weakening effect in some arid and high-altitude regions. Moreover, as various heat stress metrics may yield different estimations of long-term trend and urbanization contribution, the particular choice of heat stress indicator is of critical importance for investigations on this subject matter.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020EF001848
JournalEarth's Future
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Environmental Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


  • apparent temperature
  • climate change
  • heat index | heat stress
  • heatwave
  • urban agglomerations in China
  • urbanization effect | wet-bulb temperature


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