Study highlights impact of urbanisation on temperatures in Highland capital

A groundbreaking study has revealed the impact of urbanisation on temperatures in Inverness. The research, conducted by an associate researcher at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), found that the Highland city can be up to 3.5°C warmer than surrounding areas.

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George Gunn

The increase in temperature has been attributed to the urban heat island effect, a phenomenon where surfaces such as roads and rooftops absorb and release more heat than those in rural environments.

It is the first time the effect has been studied in Inverness. The study is one of only a few across the globe which explore the issue in a smaller urban environment, with most research focusing on large cities such as New York and Tokyo.

George Gunn explained the significance of his findings: “The average temperature difference between Inverness and its surrounding areas was 1.6°C, rising to 3.5°C on some occasions. This may not seem like a huge amount, but when you look at it in the context of climate change, it could have serious implications in the future.

“The collective impact of climate change and the urban heat island effect could see average summer temperatures in Inverness rise by up to 7.4°C by 2080 compared to those in more rural areas. This can lead to higher air pollution, exacerbating respiratory conditions like asthma, as well as increasing the risk of heat-related illnesses.”

Mr Gunn re-analysed data gathered from June to August 2019 as part of his undergraduate dissertation at UHI Inverness. He used a vehicle-mounted sensor to measure temperatures from areas between Inverness and Culloden. He hopes the findings of the research, which have been published in the Scottish Geographical Journal this week, can be used to inform strategic planning strategy: 

“Inverness has experienced rapid urbanisation in recent years so it's crucial for us to understand how this is impacting the local climate. Strategic planning should consider proper placement of green space and the density, form and materials used in developments to provide a healthier, more sustainable environment for residents.

“As my study is one of the few which focuses on the urban heat island effect in smaller urban areas, I also hope the findings will also contribute to the wider field of sustainable city development, helping planners across the globe” he added.

Find out about environmental courses at UHI

Read Mr Gunn’s research paper

Find out more about Mr Gunn, visit his UHI alumni ambassador profile