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Exploring the Spatial Patterning of Sociodemographic Disparities in Extreme Heat Exposure at Multiple Scales Across the Conterminous United States

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Climate change has led to an increase in heat-related morbidity and mortality. The impact of heat on health is unequally distributed amongst different socioeconomic and demographic groups. We use high-resolution daily air temperature-based heat wave intensity (HWI) and neighborhood-scale sociodemographic information from the conterminous United States to evaluate the spatial patterning of extreme heat exposure disparities. Assuming differences in spatial patterns at national, regional, and local scales; we assess disparities in heat exposure across race, housing characteristics, and poverty level. Our findings indicate small differences in HWI based on these factors at the national level, with the magnitude and direction of the differences varying by region. The starkest differences are present over the Northeast and Midwest, where primarily Black neighborhoods are exposed to higher HWI than predominantly White areas. At the local level, we find the largest difference by socioeconomic status. We also find that residents of nontraditional housing are more vulnerable to heat exposure. Previous studies have either evaluated such disparities for specific cities and/or used a satellite-based land surface temperature, which, although correlated with air temperature, does not provide the true measure of heat exposure. This study is the first of its kind to incorporate high-resolution gridded air temperature–based heat exposure in the evaluation of sociodemographic disparities at a national scale. The analysis suggests the unequal distribution of heat wave intensities across communities—with higher heat exposures characterizing areas with high proportions of minorities, low socioeconomic status, and homes in need of retrofitting to combat climate change.