Heat islands are urbanized areas that experience higher temperatures largely due to their built environment. Buildings, roads and other infrastructure absorb and re-emit the sun’s heat more than natural landscapes, causing these areas to become “islands” of higher temperatures.
Extreme heat events cause more serious health incidents in the U.S. than any other climate-related hazard (including tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes), according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates. In Southern Nevada, which has one of the hottest and fastest-warming climates in the country, serious heat-related health incidents have spiked in recent years.
By capturing on-the-ground temperature data across the valley, the Southern Nevada Urban Heat Mapping Project will reveal which neighborhoods are hottest and provide insight into why these temperature patterns occur. Understanding how heat is distributed in our community can help to inform heat mitigation efforts, while addressing inequitable distribution of urban heat risk and vulnerability.
About The Project
Southern Nevada was one of 14 locations nationwide awarded a grant from NOAA to conduct a community science urban heat island mapping campaign in the summer of 2022.
For more information, read NOAA’s press release.
This opportunity will allow our region to study the impacts of extreme heat and inform local strategies to alleviate the impacts of heat across the community. The Southern Nevada Urban Heat Mapping Project builds on previous and ongoing heat-related work conducted in our region, including:
Over the past five years, NOAA has funded CAPA Strategies to support 35 communities across the United States in mapping their urban heat islands (UHI). CAPA has developed a process to help cities plan and execute a volunteer-based community science field campaign that builds upon local partnerships, engages residents in a scientific study to map and understand how heat is distributed in their communities. CAPA uses data captured during the campaigns to produce high-quality outputs that have been used in sustainability plans, public health practices, urban forestry, research projects, and other engagement activities. These community science field campaigns have also been the used to raise awareness about the many impacts of extreme heat and the factors that may affect the uneven distribution of heat throughout communities.
The final product of the community science field campaigns is a set of high resolution air temperature and humidity data, and a report by CAPA Strategies that provides a detailed analysis of distribution of heat in the morning, afternoon and evening. Interactive, high resolution web maps of the modeled air temperature and heat index are also provided. The maps are produced using a machine learning process that combines satellite imagery and air temperature and humidity readings collected by volunteers during the campaign. For more information consult a recent publication on the mapping process.
What will volunteers do?
Volunteers will drive pre-mapped routes across the valley over three separate one-hour periods (6-7 a.m., 3-4 p.m., and 7-8 p.m.) on a hot day in mid-August. Data will be collected using a specially-designed sensor that attaches to a volunteer’s cars and collects the temperature and humidity throughout the route being driven. This campaign will also use volunteers who will serve as navigators to help direct drivers’ turns along their route.
The resulting temperature and humidity data collected will be used to develop temperature and heat index maps of Southern Nevada that will be used to help address heat-related vulnerabilities across the region.
When will the heat mapping occur?
The target date for the mapping campaign is Saturday, Aug. 13 (contingent on weather). Ideal conditions for heat mapping are hot, clear days, with no precipitation and minimal wind. The project team is working with the National Weather Service Las Vegas Forecast Office to determine the exact date. Volunteers will be notified 7-10 days prior.
Because the exact date is not known at this time, the project team is assembling an “on-call” roster of volunteers. Participation will be confirmed approximately 7-10 days prior to the mapping date.
Will volunteers be compensated for their time?
Yes! Volunteers who are chosen to participate in the project will be compensated with gift cards to help cover the gas used during the campaign. For every route completed, each team member will get a $30 VISA gift card. So Drivers and Navigators will have the opportunity to get up to $90 in gift cards if they do all three time periods (6 a.m., 3 p.m., and 7 p.m.). Gift cards will be distributed after the data has been collected.
Snacks and beverages, including pizza from Marsigliano’s Pizzeria, will also be provided on the campaign day, and cool summer giveaways will be offered to all volunteers.
Are there any requirements as a volunteer?
All volunteers will be required to sign a liability release waiver. Drivers will need a valid driver’s license, access to a vehicle, and auto insurance. Navigators must be at least 12 years of age and capable of reading a map and providing directions.
Before the campaign day, volunteers will be asked to participate in a virtual volunteer orientation, which includes reviewing a video, completing a knowledge-check, and participating in a short online training session and follow up discussion. Based on previous campaigns, volunteers spend an average of 2.5-4 hours over three weeks, with most of the time occurring on the actual campaign day.
When is the volunteer training session?
The Volunteer Training session was held Wednesday, July 27 from 6-7 p.m. on Webex.
A recording of the training can be viewed here.
How will volunteer teams be selected?
Priority will be given to volunteer teams who:
- are available for all three time periods (6-7 a.m., 3-4 p.m., and 7-8 p.m.)
- register as complete teams (with a Driver and Navigator)
- live in ZIP codes with high rates of heat-related health incidents
Project organizers will contact selected volunteer teams in advance of the campaign day to confirm availability.
Do volunteers get to choose where they drive or help navigate?
Most likely. Volunteers will be asked to identify their preferred driving areas once confirmed as a participant. We will do our best to accommodate your preference.
Will volunteers be notified when the results are made available?
Yes! We’re planning to host a release party for volunteers later in the year when the results are made available. At this gathering, we’ll share the final products (summary report and interactive maps), and celebrate all those who helped make the project possible. Everybody who expressed interest in volunteering will be invited to our report release party later this fall.
Will volunteers get to choose who they’re paired with in a car?
Yes, volunteers have the opportunity to sign up in pairs and won’t have to share a vehicle with someone they don’t know (unless they choose to be).
Can the temperature data be collected by driving routes in anything other than a car (like a bicycle, motorcycle, or by walking)?
Unfortunately not, for several reasons:
- All of the sensors need to be calibrated the same way, making using multiple types of vehicles or transportation modes difficult.
- Safety is also a concern. Since the campaign will likely take place on day with temperatures of at least 100 degrees and the pre-mapped routes are several miles long and must be completed in an hour, it would be dangerous for pedestrians or bicyclists to do.
How are the sensors attached to vehicles?
Data will be collected by a sensor mounted on the passenger side of a car. The sensor is held in place by the window and will not damage the car. The sensor records the ambient temperature, humidity, and location once per second.
Are there opportunities for volunteers not interested in driving or navigating?
Yes! There are opportunities to help staff the three Volunteer Hubs where volunteers will sign in, collect/return equipment, and have access to refreshments and other giveaways. There will also be a limited number of FLIR thermal imaging cameras (which attach to a smartphone) available for volunteers to capture thermal images of different place types. (You can get a sense for what the FLIR camera does from this Wired article.)
Still have more questions?
Complete the below contact form to send your question to a project organizer.
Project Frequently Asked Questions
How is the urban heat island mapping project funded?
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Program Office (CPO), the interagency National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS), and CAPA Strategies, LLC launched the Heat Watch community-led campaigns in cities and counties across the United States in 2017. Clark County is one of 14 communities across the U.S. that will be part of the Summer 2022 urban heat island mapping cohort. NOAA has funded CAPA to provide science support for community-led campaigns to map urban heat islands. A local funding match is provided by each of the selected communities.
Who is involved in the Southern Nevada heat island mapping project?
This project is a collaboration between resident volunteers and a number of Southern Nevada-area stakeholders. The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC) is serving as the project lead, with Clark County, UNLV, and Get Outdoor Nevada serving as project partners. Support is also being provided by the Nevada Minority Healthy and Equity Coalition, Southern Nevada Health District, Desert Research Institute, City of Las Vegas, City of Henderson, City of North Las Vegas, Boulder City, and Southern Nevada Water Authority.
We’re always looking for more partners. If you’re interested, please reach out!
What are heat islands?
From the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
Heat islands are urbanized areas that experience higher temperatures than outlying areas. Structures such as buildings, roads, and other infrastructure absorb and re-emit the sun’s heat more than natural landscapes such as forests and water bodies. Urban areas, where these structures are highly concentrated and greenery is limited, become “islands” of higher temperatures relative to outlying areas.
Heat islands are usually measured by the temperature difference between cities relative to the surrounding areas. Temperature can also vary inside a city. Some areas are hotter than others due to the uneven distribution of heat-absorbing buildings and pavements, while other spaces remain cooler as a result of trees and greenery. These temperature differences constitute intra-urban heat islands.
How dangerous is heat in Southern Nevada?
Increasing temperatures in the region are associated with and contribute to a host of negative impacts – from exacerbating drought and poorer air quality to added wear and tear on infrastructure. But, most importantly, studies have found a clear link between increasing temperatures and increasing heat-related deaths and hospitalizations. A recent analysis of heat waves and heat-related death in Southern Nevada between 2007 and 2016 found a statistically significant correlation between the two. Health records offer a glimpse into extreme heat’s toll on health locally. There were nearly 1,000 serious heat-related health incidents (fatalities, ER visits and hospitalizations) in Southern Nevada between 2016 and 2018. And this is almost certainly an undercount due to the way this data is captured at hospitals and emergency rooms and on death certificates.
Why are cars being used to capture the temperature data?
Currently, capturing the temperature data by car is the most efficient and safest method available, according to CAPA Strategies. Because all of the sensors need to be calibrated in the same way, using multiple types of vehicles (such as motorcycles or buses) or transportation modes (such as bicycling, walking) is difficult. The temperature data is also captured by driving customized pre-mapped, nonlinear routes to ensure a range of neighborhood types and land covers are included, making it difficult for in-service vehicles (such as buses or TNCs) to be utilized. Finally, safety is also a concern. Since the campaign will likely take place on day with temperatures of at least 100 degrees and the pre-mapped routes are several miles long and must be completed in an hour, it would be dangerous for pedestrians or bicyclists to do.
What will the data be used to produce?
The final product of the community science field campaigns is a set of high resolution air temperature and humidity data, and a report by CAPA Strategies that provides a detailed analysis of distribution of heat in the morning, afternoon and evening. Interactive, high resolution web maps of the modeled air temperature and heat index are also provided. The maps are produced using a machine learning process that combines satellite imagery and air temperature and humidity readings collected by volunteers during the campaign.
Previous reports can be accessed here.
Where else is this happening?
Southern Nevada was one of 14 locations selected in the U.S. to participate in the 2022 Urban Heat Island Mapping Campaign. The program is also going international for the first time this year, with campaigns in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Freetown, Sierra Leone. See map below for selected cities.
Where has this already been done?
Over the past five years, NOAA has funded CAPA Strategies to provide science support for 35 community-led campaigns to map urban heat islands (see map below).