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Northern Research Station
One Gifford Pinchot Drive
Madison, WI 53726
(608) 231-9318
(608) 231-9544 TTY/TDD

Urban Natural Resources Stewardship

Urban Natural Resources and Public Health

Urban forests should be considered a living infrastructure of the city, and they can have positive or negative effects on human health and well-being. Scientists and technical staff at Northern Research Station (NRS) laboratories conduct and analyze various field measurements and develop computer programs to better understand how the urban tree canopy can improve the urban environment. Numerous user-friendly computer tools are also being developed to aid local constituents. Other health issues being researched are included under the Air and Water Quality science topic.

Selected Research Studies

Mean (S.E.) concentrations of soil metals in residential lawns by age of structure (pre- and post-1940 structures). Different letters represent significant differences for a metal between structure age at alpha = 0.05. Data were log transformed.Heavy Metals
Elevated heavy metal concentrations are almost universally reported in urban soils, though often with high variances.  Most of the heavy metal sources in urban landscapes have been associated with roadside environments, interior and exterior paint, stack emissions, management inputs, and industrial waste.  As these heavy metals are emitted into urban environments, they may accumulate in the soil.


[photo:] New York City Housing Authority Garden and Greening outreach coordinator Howard Hemmings (left) with Mr. Miller, a gardener at Mariner’s Harbor houses in Staten Island (photo used with permission from photographer Lloyd Carter, NYCHA).Restorative Commons: Creating Health and Well-Being through Urban Landscapes
The Restorative Commons initiative explores sites and programs that feature creative design, foster civic stewardship of natural resources, and promote sustainability. Such restorative commons have the potential to support human health and help build resilient communities.


[image:] A man fishing at Big Marsh in southeast Chicago with an active industrial facility in the background.  Eating Sport-caught Fish from an Industrial Urban Area: Anglers Consider the Risks
Over two summers, anthropologists from The Field Museum conducted interviews with people fishing in the industrial Calumet Region of northwest Indiana and southeast Chicago. Supplemental interviews sought information from others with an interest in Calumet fishing including bait shop owners, conservation officers, and anglers’ family members.


Photo: Chicago skyline in background seen through tree branches in foreground.Tree Influences on Climate of Urban Areas
What effects do urban tress have on local air temperature, relative humidity, and wind speeds, and how can urban vegetation be configured to increase human comfort and reduce thermal stress? NRS scientists are currently measuring the climatic variables and seeking methods to predict and map differences in the variables, particularly differences in air temperature, caused by trees across a city.


PhotoTree Influences on Human Exposure to Ultraviolet Radiation
Vegetation can significantly reduce ultraviolet (UV) radiation loads reaching the ground. Our scientists study how vegetation designs will modify people's exposure to UV radiation, information that is needed by medical authorities for cancer epidemiology and in advising people on behaviors to avoid inappropriate UV exposure.


PhotoTree Influences on Human Comfort
Trees modify air temperature, solar and thermal radiation exchanges, wind, and humidity of the air, and all of these influence human comfort. NRS scientists have developed a computer program (OUTCOMES) to predict human-comfort and evaluate the impact of trees on comfort. The program shows the shade pattern of a tree and calculates a human comfort index considering the full range of weather variables, the density of a tree that shades a person, and other features of the surrounding neighborhood.


[image:] thumbnail image of map of vegetation typesTools to Assess Ecosystem Services and Values
To improve urban forest planning, management and design, managers need the ability to quantify their local urban forest composition and its associated ecosystem services and values.


[Photo:] Water polluted from overflowing sanitary sewers emerging from tunnel --Gynns Run, Baltimore, MDPathogens in Urban Streams and Runoff
Urban streams are intimately connected to their landscapes through highly engineered drainage networks, and this results in increased loads for many urban pollutants, including pathogens.  This is part of the “urban stream syndrome”, and is particularly salient because contamination of recreational and potable waters presents potentially serious health hazards.  The ubiquitous and frequent contamination of Baltimore streams with fecal coliforms presents a poignant challenge for managers seeking to minimize degradation by pathogens from runoff, leaking sanitary sewers, and urban animal populations because these streams are so often located in back yards and urban stream valley parks.

Last Modified: 11/13/2015