As Summers Bring Searing Heat, Cities Turn to Innovative Heat Mapping

The heat of the summer is not just a nuisance but a significant public health threat. In most years, extreme heat causes more deaths than any other type of weather-related disaster. The danger is most acute for elderly people, who are more vulnerable to the effects of heat,

and for people living in low-income areas, where cost barriers and features of the built environment make it harder to stay cool in hot weather.

As the mercury rises, temperatures vary substantially on the basis of proximity to trees or water, the density and nature of built structures, the heat output of air conditioners, and many other factors. Heat mapping is an innovative, data-driven method to visualize temperatures across a geographic area in order to understand why some areas get hotter than others on summer days.

By layering temperature data with demographic and socioeconomic information, heat maps can reveal the drivers that create risk spikes within a city. Three TEX projects are using heat mapping to help cities address different types of heat challenges.

“Many cities are interested in including extreme heat mitigation in their climate adaptation plans,” says Juan Declet-Barreto of the Union of Concerned Scientists and a scientific partner for a TEX project in Washington, D.C. “Detailed information on the people and places most sensitive to extreme heat can help prioritize resources, turning scientific data into straightforward, actionable information to help.”

The nation’s capital is essentially one enormous heat island, where the built environment causes temperatures to rise several degrees compared to the more forested areas just outside the city. It’s also a place where large low-income neighborhoods create pockets of heightened vulnerability to the health risks of extreme heat.

“These public health burdens cannot be overemphasized,” says Declet-Barreto. “We now know that across the world, vulnerability to extreme heat is mediated by socioeconomic status. Small-scale mapping helps us understand these inequities.”

Urban heat islands trap heat, making neighborhoods like this one in Washington, D.C., even hotter on sizzling summer days. Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid, Wikimedia Commons.

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by Anne Johnson for Thrive Exchange

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This is great work indeed. We all need to protect ourselves