Want to be a ‘street scientist?’ Volunteering might be easier than you think

Whether it’s by car or bike, collecting data on urban heat islands can be fun and helpful to communities

Stock image. Ryan Millier (Pexels)

As city leaders, environmentalists and scientists come up with ways to combat urban heat islands, it might be comforting for people to know that they can be part of the solution, as well.

Heat islands are areas that have higher temperatures than their outlying areas, due to a bigger presence of structures, such as buildings and roads that trap the sun’s heat more.

Environmental groups in cities are often looking for volunteers, who are sometimes called “street scientists,” to collect data that can help a city deal with urban heat islands.

That data is easier to collect than you might think.

It can be done on bike or by car, through special humidity sensors that have GPS attached to them.

For cars, the sensors can be attached to the window. On bikes, the sensors can be attached to the front, near or on the handlebars.

Vivek Shandas, professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University, helped create a heat-mapping endeavor in which volunteers drive or ride a pre-selected route through their city three times a day.

This helps researchers not have to rely solely on satellite data to map urban heat.

“The volunteer program is a way to engage local community-based organizations in understanding the distribution of heat,” Shandas said. “By equipping them with sensitive sensors, which is done through an outside group, the volunteers bike (or) drive on predetermined routes that collect temperature and relative humidity readings every one second. The volunteers participate by mounting the sensors on their bikes (or) cars, and traverse the predetermined routes at 6 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. for one hour during each period, which give us a description of air temps throughout the day. The data are made into maps, and the volunteers are then involved in interpreting the results.”

In Houston, volunteers also used thermal cameras on cellphones to record differences in temperature on different surfaces, according to HARCresearch.org.

Below is a peek at Houston’s past and predicted future of average daily maximum temperatures.

If this sounds like something that would interest you, visit your community’s government, parks and recreation, or environmental websites.

About the Author

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.

Recommended Videos