National experiment uses Boulder volunteers to map heat across city


Pat Meyers and Deborah Rylander toured Boulder on Friday afternoon. Their cruise in a white Audi, with a heat sensor affixed to a window, was part of one of the largest heat mapping projects in the United States.

The project, which required the help of nearly 100 volunteers, was part of an annual project that assesses the hottest and coldest parts of 14 US cities and counties to help plan and prepare. to the extreme heat waves that scientists have been warning about for years. When Meyers and Rylander left, the National Weather Service predicted a high of 97 degrees for the day.

“We’re hoping to show, first, which areas of the city are the hottest, and then we’re also looking at why those areas are hot: are there a lot of impervious surfaces? Aren’t there a lot of trees? Isn’t there a lot of shade in these areas? said Adam Hall, a University of Colorado graduate student studying urban resilience and sustainability, who is helping lead the local initiative.

Meyers, Rylander and many other volunteers picked up the gear they needed to participate from a location in downtown Boulder.

Volunteer Pat Meyers attaches a heat sensor to Deborah Rylander’s car window to collect heat and humidity data July 22, 2022. The day-long study was conducted by the City of Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, or NOAA. 18 cities across the country participated in the thermal mapping project. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

The two women attached the heat sensor and then drove to Tom Watson Park, north of Boulder Reservoir. From there, they were supposed to travel a winding road through the city, trying to maintain a constant speed of 35 mph as the sensor took measurements every second, recording temperature, humidity, time and location to end of ride near Foothills Community Park in the northern foothills of Boulder.

Once the ride was complete, they were supposed to return the sensor to local heat mapping study officials to help scientists begin their analysis.

The annual Inequality Thermal Mapping Project is led by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association and CAPA Strategies, a climate planning and analysis consulting firm.

“We want to get people to start thinking about the relationship between heat and the built-in environment and then come up with solutions to cool those parts of the city,” Hall said Thursday.

Other volunteers traveled through Boulder neighborhoods by car, bike and on foot to collect data on heat, temperature and humidity. In all, 21 teams traveled seven routes through Boulder over three shifts on Friday. Some used sensors attached to their vehicles, while others used hygrometers attached to their bicycles, to reach areas inaccessible by car.

In a separate activity to engage local youth, high school students used thermal cameras to capture thermal images which are used to determine the hottest and coldest surface temperatures.

The routes zigzagged throughout Boulder, but also mapped neighborhoods where vulnerable people live, including city-run affordable housing and mobile home communities.

Some low-income people live in homes with poor insulation, windows and doors, or no air conditioning. Urban canopy studies show that some low-income neighborhoods lack trees that provide shade and relief from rising temperatures.

“As climate change worsens, it worsens inequality because it affects the most vulnerable people, Hall said.

Meyers and Rylander learned about the local heat mapping initiative through email alerts from Ecocycle, the Boulder County Recycling Center, and the newsletter published by the Boulder Reporting Lab, an organization non-profit press.

Volunteers Deborah Rylander and Pat Meyers walk through Boulder neighborhoods to collect heat and humidity data on July 22, 2022. The day-long study was conducted by the City of Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association , or NOAA. 18 cities across the country participated in the thermal mapping project. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

The experiment was over before it started for them, however. When they arrived at Tom Watson Park their sensor had malfunctioned so they were unable to complete the course. The malfunction represents one of many logistical challenges that project officials hoped not to encounter.

Rylander has lived in Boulder for about two decades and said it was one of the hottest summers she can remember. Her interest in environmental issues led her to volunteer for Friday’s initiative.

“It felt like something I could do easily, and I love how local it is,” she said. “I can see it happening, I can participate, and it’s not just about giving money away.”

Some local teams across the country are mapping “urban heat islands,” or areas that can be up to 20 degrees warmer than their neighboring neighborhoods.

Other heat data collections are also underway this summer in Nevada, South Carolina, Ohio, Florida, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Maryland, Nebraska, Washington, Philadelphia, New York and San Francisco. NOAA is also working with local groups on international thermal mapping campaigns in Freetown, Sierra Leone and Rio de Janeiro.

Boulder’s event on Friday was one of the first of this year’s data collection work. Project managers worked with local forecasters and aimed to stage the event on one of the hottest and driest days of the year with minimal cloud cover.

“In the face of global warming, understanding which parts of the city are most at risk from hot, dry weather is critical,” said Boulder City Councilor Brett KenCairn. “This data will help us direct investments in natural climate solutions, such as trees, gardens and green spaces, to the places that need them most.”

Extreme heat kills more Americans than any other weather event. And as many parts of the United States and the rest of the world continue to face deadly heat waves, NOAA researchers and scientists are working with communities across the country to help them take action to manage this extreme heat, according to a public statement released by NOAA. .

The climate crisis has exacerbated inequalities for low-income communities, people of color and those who live in urban areas without nearby trees for shade or cooling, NOAA said.

Trees and green spaces can make people healthier and happier, but maps show communities of color and low-income metro Denver neighborhoods have less access to shade.

To help reduce the negative effects of extreme heat, for the past five years NOAA has funded CAPA Strategies to provide scientific support for 35 community-based campaigns aimed at mapping urban heat islands. During the 2021 urban heat island campaign, 799 citizen scientists made 1.2 million measurements in 24 communities.

The 2022 heat mapping campaign will feature new technology that better characterizes urban climate and health risks. Columbus, Ohio and Philadelphia, for example, use mobile air quality monitors to understand the impacts of heat and air quality.

Cities that have participated in previous campaigns have used their heat island maps to develop heat action plans, add cooling stations to bus shelters, educate residents and policymakers, and inform new research.

Last year, the National Integrated Heat Health Information System funded five new research projects in US cities to help develop tools for equitable heat intervention, investigate heat in rural areas and small towns, and determine the effect of coasts on urban heat patterns.

NOAA’s mapping study is part of President Joe Biden’s Justice40 initiative, which aims to ensure that federal agencies partner with states and local communities to deliver on Biden’s pledge to deliver 40% of the overall benefits of certain investments such as climate and the flow of clean energy to the underserved. communities overwhelmed by pollution.

Volunteers Deborah Rylander, left, and Pat Meyers walk through Boulder neighborhoods to collect heat and humidity data July 22, 2022. The day-long study was conducted by the City of Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, or NOAA. 18 cities across the country participated in the thermal mapping project. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

In evaluating applications for the 2022 Heat Mapping Campaigns, the National Integrated Heat and Health Information System team prioritized applications with an environmental justice focus. Communities involved in the 2022 program will help track and report on the allocation of benefits to ensure adequate inclusion of environmental justice communities, and those results will be shared with the White House, according to a public statement released by NOAA.

Once communities deliver their heat measurement sensors to NOAA and CAPA Strategies, the organizations will analyze the data and turn it into a heat map that will then be sent to city leaders who will present the results to local people. Those results should be available within six to eight weeks, Hall said.

Once the analysis is complete and project managers understand where the hottest areas are in Boulder, the heat map will help inform strategic nature-based climate solutions, such as planting trees, and use of other natural features that can cool the hottest areas of the city, Hall said.

“Boulder is trying to pave the way for natural climate solutions, and heat mapping is one of the tools to kickstart that work,” he said. “Boulder also currently has approximately 50 stationary heat sensors around the city collecting heat data. So I think NOAA and CAPA Strategies were kind of intrigued by the idea of ​​having a really robust map comparing their tool to the fixed sensors tool and seeing how they can work together.

NOAA has run the heat mapping project every year since 2017.

MORE: A map of test routes and places of interest is available online. To follow the 2022 national campaigns, subscribe to NOAA’s Heat Beat newsletter.

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