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New Research: Some Types Of Shade Better Than Others At Keeping Us Cool

Trees can provide relief from the heat during the summer months, but ASU researchers say that other forms of shade can also be effective.

The findings can have benefits for city planners looking to offset the heat-island effect.

Ariane Middel wants to be clear on this: Trees have a lot of benefits, including shade.

Hear Researcher Ariane Middel's Interview With Mark Brodie On The Show


But in some urban spaces, trees are not an option. Sewer lines, cables and other underground infrastructure can make it difficult to plant them.

So the assistant professor and her team set out to measure temperature and other factors in various types of urban shade.

They found that umbrellas, shade sails, tall buildings and tunnels helped keep things cooler.

“What we found is that any shade is great," Middel said, "so don’t get rid of your trees in your backyard. But if you run into infrastructure challenges, there are good alternatives to trees.”

In their report, 50 Grades of Shade, scientists compare the mean radiant temperature under three different kinds of shade: Tree shade, shade from urban forms like buildings and lightweight or engineered shade — think sail cloth and umbrellas.

Mean radiant temperature refers to how we humans experience heat when we’re outside. It can be similar to air temperature in the shade, but upwards of 30 degrees warmer than air temps in the sun.

Using a garden cart with meteorological sensors on it, called MaRTy, the researchers went around Tempe to gauge how miserable we’d feel standing in the sun when it’s above 110 degrees. They plan to use their data to help cities decide which forms of shade are best for specific spots, and how different kinds of shade might perform in a specific context.

The researchers are teaming up with Tempe to help create an online tool that will help city planners.

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Ron Dungan was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2020 to 2024.