Introducing the urban wind island effect

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Wind is a key component of the urban climate due to its relevance for ventilation of air pollution and urban heat, wind nuisance, as well as for urban wind energy engineering. These winds are governed by the dynamics of the atmosphere closest to the surface, the atmospheric boundary layer (ABL). Making use of a conceptual bulk model of the ABL, we find that for certain atmospheric conditions the boundary-layer mean wind speed in a city can surprisingly be higher than its rural counterpart, despite the higher roughness of cities. This urban wind island effect (UWI) prevails in the afternoon, and appears to be caused by a combination of differences in ABL growth, surface roughness and the ageostrophic wind, between city and countryside. Enhanced turbulence in the urban area deepens the ABL, and effectively mixes momentum into the ABL from aloft. Furthermore, the oscillation of the wind around the geostrophic equilibrium, caused by the rotation of the Earth, can create episodes where the urban boundary-layer mean wind speed is higher than the rural wind. By altering the surface properties within the bulk model, the sensitivity of the UWI to urban morphology is studied for the 10 urban local climate zones (LCZs). These LCZs classify neighbourhoods in terms of building height, vegetation cover etc, and represent urban morphology regardless of culture or location. The ideal circumstances for the UWI to occur are a deeper initial urban boundary-layer than in the countryside, low-rise buildings (up to 12 m) and a moderate geostrophic wind (∼5 m s-1). The UWI phenomenon challenges the commonly held perception that urban wind is usually reduced due to drag processes. Understanding the UWI can become vital to accurately model urban air pollution, quantify urban wind energy potential or create accurate background conditions for urban computational fluid dynamics models.

Original languageEnglish
Article number094007
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2018


  • meteorology
  • model
  • urban climate
  • urban weather
  • wind
  • wind island

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Introducing the urban wind island effect'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this