Characterizing air and soil temperatures along an urban gradient

Date of Award

June 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Earth Sciences


Christa Kelleher


Soil Temperature, Urban Heat Island, Vacant Land

Subject Categories

Physical Sciences and Mathematics


Urban green spaces, such as parks and lawns may moderate the impacts of urban heat islands by decreasing surface and air temperatures. However, the role of urban green spaces as moderators of subsurface temperatures has not been examined in depth. In this study, I investigated subsurface temperature patterns across several types of urban green spaces, including parks, urban lawns, suburban lawns, and vegetated vacant lots, in Syracuse, NY, USA. Data collection included the installation of 34 Thermochron iButton dataloggers during the summer of 2018 (June 6 – September 11), which recorded shallow subsurface and air temperatures at nine green spaces within suburban residential to highly urbanized regions. Field results were compared to local weather station data, and land cover assessments. Comparative analyses revealed heterogeneous responses organized by point-scale site characteristics. Over the summer study period, daily average subsurface temperatures at vacant lots displayed the largest variability (average range = 4.6C). Temperatures measured at shaded locations were an average of 1.6C cooler than at exposed locations. Comparing fifteen-meter footprints, sensor locations with > 30% change in local canopy cover displayed greater temperature differences (> 2.4C) within a site. However, albedo and sun exposure exhibited stronger non-linear correlations with daily average and daily minimum subsurface temperatures (> ± 0.43) as compared to correlations with canopy cover. In general, subsurface temperatures poorly reflected surface temperatures, and displayed high variability within land parcels. These results provide insight into the complexity of urban green spaces, highlight the potential of vegetated vacant lots to reduce local subsurface temperatures, and merit future study to disentangle the complex heat exchanges that influence these patterns.


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