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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Mapping heatwave health risk at the community level for public health action

Camille Buscail1, Erika Upegui2 and Jean-François Viel13*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University Hospital, Rennes, France

2 CNRS n° 6249 “Chrono-Environment”, Faculty of Medicine, Besançon, France

3 INSERM n° 1085, “Epidemiological Research on Environment, Reproduction and Development”, Faculty of Medicine, Rennes, France

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International Journal of Health Geographics 2012, 11:38  doi:10.1186/1476-072X-11-38

Published: 13 September 2012

Abstract

Background

Climate change poses unprecedented challenges, ranging from global and local policy challenges to personal and social action. Heat-related deaths are largely preventable, but interventions for the most vulnerable populations need improvement. Therefore, the prior identification of high risk areas at the community level is required to better inform planning and prevention. We aimed to demonstrate a simple and flexible conceptual framework relying upon satellite thermal data and other digital data with the goal of easily reproducing this framework in a variety of urban configurations.

Results

The study area encompasses Rennes, a medium-sized French city. A Landsat ETM + image (60 m resolution) acquired during a localized heatwave (June 2001) was used to estimate land surface temperature (LST) and derive a hazard index. A land-use regression model was performed to predict the LST. Vulnerability was assessed through census data describing four dimensions (socio-economic status, extreme age, population density and building obsolescence). Then, hazard and vulnerability indices were combined to deliver a heatwave health risk index. The LST patterns were quite heterogeneous, reflecting the land cover mosaic inside the city boundary, with hotspots of elevated temperature mainly observed in the city center. A spatial error regression model was highly predictive of the spatial variation in the LST (R2 = 0.87) and was parsimonious. Three land cover descriptors (NDVI, vegetation and water fractions) were negatively linked with the LST. A sensitivity analysis (based on an image acquired on July 2000) yielded similar results. Southern areas exhibited the most vulnerability, although some pockets of higher vulnerability were observed northeast and west of the city. The heatwave health risk map showed evidence of infra-city spatial clustering, with the highest risks observed in a north–south central band. Another sensitivity analysis gave a very high correlation between 2000 and 2001 risk indices (r = 0.98, p < 10-12).

Conclusions

Building on previous work, we developed a reproducible method that can provide guidance for local planners in developing more efficient climate impact adaptations. We recommend, however, using the health risk index together with hazard and vulnerability indices to implement tailored programs because exposure to heat and vulnerability do not require the same prevention strategies.

Keywords:
Heatwave health risk; Urban heat island; Vulnerable populations; Spatial risk assessment; Remote sensing; Land surface temperature; Land cover; Public health