Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Geography, Environment and Planning

Major Professor

Jayajit Chakraborty, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

M. Martin Bosman, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kamal Alsharif, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Timothy W. Collins, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sara E. Grineski, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ruiliang Pu, Ph.D.


urban geography, environmental justice, climate justice, climate change, urban heat island (UHI), social vulnerability


A combination of the urban heat island effect and a rising temperature baseline resulting from global climate change inequitably impacts socially vulnerable populations residing in urban areas. This dissertation examines distributional inequity of exposure to urban heat by socially disadvantaged groups and minorities in the context of climate justice. Using Cutter’s hazards-of-place model, variables indicative of social vulnerability and biophysical vulnerability are statistically tested for their associations. Biophysical vulnerability is conceptualized utilizing a urban heat risk index calculated from summer 2010 LANDSAT imagery to measure land surface temperature , structural density through the normalized difference built-up index, and vegetation abundance through the normalized difference vegetation index. A cross-section of twenty geographically distributed metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) in the U.S. are examined using census derived variables at the tract level. The results of bivariate correlation analysis, ordinary least squares regression, and spatial autoregression analysis indicate consistent and significant associations between greater social disadvantage and higher urban heat levels. Multilevel modeling is used to examine the relationship of MSA-level segregation with tract-level minority status and social disadvantage to higher levels of urban heat. Segregation has a significant but varied relationship with the variables, indicating that there are inconsistent associations with urban heat due to differing urban ecologies. Urban heat and social vulnerability present a varying landscape of thermal inequity in different urban areas, associated in many cases with residential segregation.