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Volunteer effort collects data on Columbus' urban heat island

Karina Peggau Byrd Polar & Climate heat island.png
Geddy Davis
Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center
Karina Peggau, education and outreach program coordinator with the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center, adjusts one of the instruments used to measure temperature and other climate data as part of a project to better understand Columbus' urban heat island.

About 200 volunteers hit the road Friday with sensors attached to their cars, in an effort to collect detailed climatological data on Columbus neighborhoods.

The science project was part of a national campaign to map urban "heat islands."

Geddy Davis is program coordinator for climate services at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center at Ohio State.

He explains heat islands occur mainly in urban areas, which typically have greater densities of pavement and buildings and relatively less tree cover.

Urban areas in the summer will typically be anywhere from two to six degrees Fahrenheit warmer than surrounding rural areas, Davis said.

But in extreme cases, Davis said, there can be up to 20 degrees of temperature variation between or within urban areas.

Extreme heat kills more Americans than any other weather event, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

graph shows weather fatalities in 2021. Heat is the highest weather-related cause of death.
National Weather Service

"There are increases of cases of respiratory distress, there are issues with vulnerable populations and the elderly, who have trouble with standing that intense of heat," Davis said.

He points to a recent study in which Columbus topped the list of fastest-growing urban heat islands among 60 U.S. cities.

"The Columbus region has seen a lot of rapid growth and rapid development, which has, of course, its pros, economically, it's improved some living conditions in some neighborhoods, but it's also kind of helped compound this effect."

The data collected will be used to create detailed maps of Columbus' heat island designed to help improve resource distribution to help keep neighborhoods cooler.

Columbus was one of 15 U.S. cities and two international communities that took part in this year's NOAA-led effort to map heat inequities.

Matthew Rand is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides with Ann Fisher.