The urban heat island in winter at Barrow, Alaska

Kenneth M. Hinkel, Frederick E. Nelson, Anna E. Klene, Julianne H. Bell

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118 Scopus citations


The village of Barrow, Alaska, is the northernmost settlement in the USA and the largest native community in the Arctic. The population has grown from about 300 residents in 1900 to more than 4600 in 2000. In recent decades, a general increase of mean annual and mean winter air temperature has been recorded near the centre of the village, and a concurrent trend of progressively earlier snowmelt in the village has been documented. Satellite observations and data from it nearby climate observatory indicate a corresponding but much weaker snowmelt trend in the surrounding regions of relatively undisturbed tundra. Because the region is underlain by ice-rich permafrost, there is concern that early snowmelt will increase the thickness of the thawed layer in summer and threaten the structural stability of roads, buildings, and pipelines. Here, we demonstrate the existence of a strong urban heat island (UHI) during winter. Data loggers (54) were installed in the ∼ 150 km2 study area to monitor hourly air and soil temperature, and daily spatial averages were calculated using the six or seven warmest and coldest sites. During winter (December 2001-March 2002), the urban area averaged 2.2 °C warmer than the hinterland. The strength of the UHI increased as the wind velocity decreased, reaching an average value of 3.2°C under calm (<2 m s-1) conditions and maximum single-day magnitude of 6°C. UHI magnitude generally increased with decreasing air temperature in winter, reflecting the input of anthropogenic heat to maintain interior building temperatures. On a daily basis, the UHI reached its peak intensity in the late evening and early morning. There was a strong positive relation between monthly UHI magnitude and natural gas production/use. Integrated over the period September-May, there was a 9% reduction in accumulated freezing degree days in the urban area. The evidence suggests that urbanization has contributed to early snowmelt in the village.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1889-1905
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Climatology
Issue number15
StatePublished - Dec 2003


  • Air temperature
  • Alaska
  • Instrumentation
  • Permafrost
  • Urban climatology
  • Urban heat island
  • Urban meteorology
  • Urban morphology


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