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Climatic consequences of adopting drought-tolerant vegetation over Los Angeles as a response to California drought

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During 2012–2014, drought in California resulted in policies to reduce water consumption. One measure pursued was replacing lawns with landscapes that minimize water consumption, such as drought-tolerant vegetation. If implemented at broad scale, this strategy would result in reductions in irrigation and changes in land surface characteristics. In this study, we employ a modified regional climate model to assess the climatic consequences of adopting drought-tolerant vegetation over the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Transforming lawns to drought-tolerant vegetation resulted in daytime warming of up to 1.9°C, largely due to decreases in irrigation that shifted surface energy partitioning toward higher sensible and lower latent heat flux. During nighttime, however, adopting drought-tolerant vegetation caused mean cooling of 3.2°C, due to changes in soil thermodynamic properties and heat exchange dynamics between the surface and subsurface. Our results show that nocturnal cooling effects, which are larger in magnitude and of great importance for public health during heat events, could counterbalance the daytime warming attributed to the studied water conservation strategy. A more aggressive implementation, assuming all urban vegetation was replaced with drought-tolerant vegetation, resulted in an average daytime cooling of 0.2°C, largely due to strengthened sea breeze patterns, highlighting the important role of land surface roughness in this coastal megacity.

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