Publication in: Fall 2023 Issue

Developing a Heat Vulnerability Index for Buncombe County, NC
Hope Donnellan
Author Email:
Office of Sustainability & McCullough Institute
Faculty Mentor(s):
Jackie Langille
Abstract / Summary:
Between 2008 and 2018, urban development in Asheville, NC, led to a 6.4% decline in the tree canopy that protects communities from extreme heat, which can lead to higher levels of air pollution and negative health effects. In 2019, the City of Asheville City partnered with the NASA DEVELOP program to publish a heat risk index of Asheville using geospatial and census data. This project builds on their efforts by creating a Heat Vulnerability Index (HVI) for Buncombe County to identify which communities are most vulnerable to heat exposure. The HVI was created utilizing ArcGIS Pro and it compares surface temperatures, vegetation, and social vulnerability criteria on a scale of 0–3, with 3 being the highest vulnerability. Land surface temperatures and a normalized difference vegetation index were developed with Landsat 8 satellite imagery. Additionally, recent census tract data on age, chronic illnesses, and income inequality was utilized to determine social vulnerability. The study found that the most heat vulnerable areas are the South Slope area and River Arts District, Barnardsville, as well as areas between Swannanoa and Black Mountain, which fall within the index range of 2.0–2.5. The study also found that developed areas with a higher percentage of people of color than the county average experience temperatures that are 1–2°F hotter. The HVI determined that installing green infrastructure through tree planting in South Slope and the areas between Swannanoa and Black Mountain are critical to mitigating heat vulnerability, while Barnardsville may be benefited more by social programs to increase medical care.
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