Urban heat islands (UHIs) created through urbanization can have negative impacts on the lives of people living in cities. They may also vary spatially and temporally over a city. There is, thus, a need for greater understanding of these patterns and their causes. While previous UHI studies focused on only a few cities and/or several explanatory variables, this research provides a comprehensive and comparative characterization of the diurnal and seasonal variation in surface UHI intensities (SUHIIs) across 67 major Chinese cities. The factors associated with the SUHII were assessed by considering a variety of related social, economic and natural factors using a regression tree model. Obvious seasonal variation was observed for the daytime SUHII, and the diurnal variation in SUHII varied seasonally across China. Interestingly, the SUHII varied significantly in character between northern and southern China. Southern China experienced more intense daytime SUHIIs, while the opposite was true for nighttime SUHIIs. Vegetation had the greatest effect in the day time in northern China. In southern China, annual electricity consumption and the number of public buses were found to be important. These results have important theoretical significance and may be of use to mitigate UHI effects.
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