Can reflective pavement cool off LA’s streets?

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On Saturday, as temperatures across Los Angeles eclipsed 90 degrees, workers from the Bureau of Street Services spread a gray-colored street seal across a half-block of roadway in Canoga Park, as the Daily News reports.

The reflective surfacing is meant to cool down temperatures on the asphalt, which can reach well over 100 degrees in summer. A parking lot in Encino, in fact, averaged a surface temperature of 160 degrees during the summer, according to the Daily News—before a similar pavement treatment cooled the temperature by about 25 to 30 degrees.

Experts say that reducing the high temperatures of street surfaces could have a significant impact on the LA area’s climate. That’s because non-reflective pavement is one of the key contributors to the Heat Island Effect, which causes temperatures in urban areas to rise significantly higher than in nearby non-urban communities.

According to a report from the Environmental Protection Agency, heat absorbed by the asphalt during the day can seep out at night, causing temperatures to rise. The report cites research suggesting that covering 35 percent of LA’s streets with reflective surfacing could cause air temperatures to drop by one degree Fahrenheit, on average.

That might not sound like a big change, but a study cited in the report suggests it would be enough to save Angelenos close to $100 million per year in energy savings.

Of course, Jet Propulsion Laboratory climatologist Bill Patzert tells the Daily News that, while the “cool pavement” could help reverse the Heat Island Effect, it won’t be enough to offset the loss of urban forestland, should drought conditions cause vegetation to dry up in coming years.

Trial roads in all 15 council districts are set to be coated with the reflective surfacing by the end of June.

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