By Meredith Jennings, PhD, Research Associate, HARC
On August 7, 2020 right around when temperatures tend to hit their peak in Houston and Harris County, roughly 80 community scientists drove, biked, or walked the streets within a 300-square-mile effort to measure and map urban heat in the region. This community science endeavor was led by the Houston Harris Heat Action Team (H3AT), a collaboration between Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC), the City of Houston, and Harris County Public Health (HCPH), and in partnership with Lowe’s and Shell.
Urban areas are especially prone to warmer temperatures compared to nearby rural areas due to having a larger concentration of heat absorbing surfaces (buildings, roads), limited vegetation (such as trees), and heat-producing factors like car use, building energy use and industrial activity.
This problem, known as the urban heat island effect, can create issues for human health, infrastructure, and quality of life. Not every location heats up the same. It is important to know where urban heat is the highest, which communities are disproportionately affected by heat, and how different areas heat up/cool down throughout the day.
This endeavor sought to gather daily temperatures in certain areas to analyze the data and see where the differences exist.
A huge part of the success was the volunteer network of heat champions that participated in the campaign. These citizen scientists came from every part of the region to better understand and measure heat islands in their communities. H3AT now has a growing list of interested groups and individuals who want to be involved in the effort (84 volunteers participated in the campaign and another 86 have shown interest or signed up on the website to stay connected).
However, the work is still ongoing. The H3AT team needs additional mechanisms to engage communities about priorities. The next step is a plan to partner with ISeeChange.org on a grant submitted to NOAA to develop a program that will provide more direct engagement with vulnerable community members. The program will also enable these communities to share their experience with urban and extreme heat and to help evaluate solutions prioritized by the community members most affected by heat.
Support for this project is provided by a grant from the Houston Endowment.
Houston Endowment is a private philanthropic institution that works across the community for the benefit of the people of greater Houston.
With assets of over $1.8 billion, the foundation provides approximately $70 million in funding each year in order to enhance civic assets, strengthen systems that support residents, promote post-secondary success, and build a stronger region. Established by Jesse H. and Mary Gibbs Jones in 1937, Houston Endowment has a rich legacy of addressing some of greater Houston’s most compelling needs. Today the foundation continues efforts to create a vibrant community where all have the opportunity to thrive.