The urban heat island effect has posed negative impacts on urban areas with increased cooling energy demand followed by an altered thermal environment. While unusually high temperature in urban areas has been often attributed to complex urban settings, the function of urban forests has been considered as an effective heat mitigation strategy. To investigate the cooling effect of urban forests and their influence range, this study examined the spatiotemporal changes in land surface temperature (LST) of urban forests and surrounding areas by using Landsat imageries. LST, the size of the urban forest, its vegetation cover, and Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) were investigated for 34 urban forests and their surrounding areas at a series of buffer areas in Seoul, South Korea. The mean LST of urban forests was lower than that of the overall city, and the threshold distance from urban forests for cooling effect was estimated to be roughly up to 300 m. The group of large-sized urban forests showed significantly lower mean LST than that of small-sized urban forests. The group of urban forests with higher NDVI showed lower mean LST than that of urban forests with lower mean NDVI in a consistent manner. A negative linear relationship was found between the LST and size of urban forest (r = −0.36 to −0.58), size of vegetation cover (r = −0.39 to −0.61), and NDVI (r = −0.42 to −0.93). Temporal changes in NDVI were examined separately on a specific site, Seoul Forest, that has experienced urban forest dynamics. LST of the site decreased as NDVI improved by a land-use change from a barren racetrack to a city park. It was considered that NDVI could be a reliable factor for estimating the cooling effect of urban forest compared to the size of the urban forest and/or vegetation cover.
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