Roanoke to take part in 'groundbreaking' climate research project on urban heat this summer

Published: Jun. 10, 2020 at 1:01 PM EDT
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It’s no surprise that cities can get hot. We’re talking about many degrees hotter than surrounding areas. This observation has been known for years by climate scientists, meteorologists and those citizens that live in these cities!

This weather phenomenon is known as the Urban Heat Island effect. An urban heat island occurs when a city experiences warmer temperatures than nearby rural areas. This is because of how certain surfaces absorb and hold heat. Dark sidewalks, streets, parking lots, and tall buildings absorb the sun’s heat and warm surrounding areas. This is what causes cities to be so warm compared to rural areas with more grass and trees.

Knowing what parts of a city are hottest is actually very valuable information. That is why Nell Boyle, City of Roanoke’s Sustainability & Outreach Coordinator, applied for a grant from NOAA to be a part of what she calls a ‘groundbreaking’ climate project.

"The City of Roanoke is thrilled to participate in this groundbreaking study," Boyle says. "The important data will make a direct correlation between climate change, weather and health, right here in Roanoke."

Roanoke is one of 13 community science mapping field campaigns this summer. This project is being conducted by a partnership with the National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS), NOAA CPO Communication Education and Engagement division and CAPA Strategies LLC. Participating cities vary in size from as small as Las Cruces, New Mexico to as large as Houston, Texas. NOAA is providing climate and weather predictions along with funding support to the campaigns.

The mapping itself will be done in a few steps. First, Boyle must pick out 16-18 volunteers across varying pre-selected sections of a grid in Roanoke. These volunteers will then be sent data sensing gear to map the heat in these sections through driving or biking at three different times of the day (morning, afternoon, night). Finally, a single day will be selected for the volunteers to record the data. The day will likely be in August when conditions are ideal: hot, dry and sunny.

Once this data is collected it will be sent back to NIHHIS to analyze and map. The City of Roanoke will then be able to use the analyzed data to coordinate future plans to mitigate extreme heat. Boyle expects future policies to be developed to protect people from this heat and build natural systems through tree planting, repainting of buildings and other methods.

This project will prove essential as the earth continues to warm and summers get hotter as they have in recent decades here in Roanoke. Through this data, the city can become more energy efficient, cooler and ultimately safer.

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