Understanding the role of forest resources in reducing community vulnerability to heat effects of climate change
Walton, Zachary Lawton
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IPCC climate models show that increases in the frequency and duration of heat waves could significantly increase health and other risks in human communities. Multivariate principle components factor analysis of county level data on socio-demographic and heat exposure variables was used to develop an additive index of vulnerability to heat effect across the contiguous United States. The index was mapped and analyzed in relation to forest resources to investigate a potential relationship with the amount and distribution of forest resources. Multivariate regression was used to confirm the validity of the index, and evaluate the relationship of forest resources with a specific measure of heat vulnerability (i.e. heat related mortality). Results confirm that the vulnerability index generated varied significantly by region, and between urban and rural counties, and was strongly related to heat related mortality per capita. Results also suggest that public forest, deciduous and mixed forest, and un-fragmented forest are desirable forest characteristics for the mitigation of extreme heat. Findings have important policy implications in selecting and managing desirable forest characteristics to mitigate the anticipated heat effects of climate change in human communities.