Scrapping Lawns in LA Would Change City's Temps

How much depends on what lawns are replaced with
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 6, 2016 11:00 AM CDT
Scrapping Lawns in LA Would Change City's Temps
Retired Department of Motor Vehicle customer service representative Raymond Aleman waters his new drought resistant garden at his home in the Studio City neighborhood in Los Angeles, Wednesday, May 27, 2015.   (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

The typical California home's biggest area of water usage is beyond its four walls: its outdoor landscaping. So in the face of drought, tens of thousands of Los Angeles homeowners made a change last summer, reports the Times, swapping their grass for artificial turf, gravel, or drought-tolerant shrubs. And while water-conserving efforts have been indisputably successful—urban Californians cut their water consumption 21.5% in June as compared to June 2013,the Mercury News reports—a trio of landscaper designer wrote an op-ed in the Times last summer about an unwanted effect of "gravelscaping": hotter days due to fewer plants and trees "transpir[ing] moisture to cool the air." Now, researchers at the University of Southern California have run various land-cover scenarios to determine whether that's so.

In a nutshell, LA's daytime temps would be up to 3.4 degrees warmer thanks to the dramatic reduction in irrigation if the city went entirely without lawns. But, as they report this week in Geophysical Research Letters, if those lawns were replaced with drought-tolerant vegetation (as opposed to pavers and gravel), there would be a 5.4 degree dip in nighttime temps to more than make up for the daytime warming—a phenomenon they hadn't foreseen. "In retrospect, it makes sense that reducing soil moisture would change the thermal properties of the soil and surface-atmosphere coupling in this way," researcher George Ban-Weiss says. And if drought-tolerant shrubs were substituted for lawns and trees, daytime temps would dip 0.4 degrees thanks to unhindered sea breezes, not that the researchers are endorsing a tree-less LA. (More drought stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.