The Center for Climate, Society and the Environment Drives Change, Mapping Spokane Heat

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July 21, 2022

Center for Climate, Society and Environment

SPOKANE, Wash. – Gonzaga University’s Center for Climate, Society, and Environment partnered with 40 local volunteers to map urban heat islands on Saturday, July 16, marking the launch of Spokane Beat the Heat, the new heat-focused climate center climate resilience project.

Spokane Beat the Heat follows the 2021 Heat Dome in the Northwest which saw record high temperatures across the region, accompanied by the tragic loss of many community members to heat-related illnesses.

“We are excited to work with community and city leaders to better understand and respond to extreme heat,” said Professor Brian G. Henning, director of GU’s Climate Center. “As we saw last year in Spokane and this summer around the world, failure to plan for extreme heat can be deadly, especially for the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

During extreme heat events, surface and ambient temperatures can be strongly influenced by the built environment. Trees and green spaces reduce temperatures, while dense concentrations of dark surfaces and buildings absorb and retain heat. These areas of high temperatures in the middle of developed urban spaces are called “urban heat islands”.

Using innovative thermal cameras that turn a smartphone into an infrared camera with precise measurements of surface temperature, the urban heat island effect can be observed on the Gonzaga campus, volunteers have found.

These photos, taken minutes apart on a 93-degree day, show the cul-de-sac on the Gonzaga campus near St. Aloysius Church (left) and a partially shaded walkway on the west side of the Crosby Center (right). The middle of the cul-de-sac recorded a mid-afternoon surface temperature of 126 degrees; the partially shaded walkway was 43 degrees cooler, at 83 degrees.

Mapping urban heat islands in Spokane can help guide tree planting, community event planning, and cooling resources during extreme heat events.

The Urban Heat Island Mapping Project is made possible by a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The agency is working with cities across the country to help them better prepare for warming temperatures and high instances of extreme weather events.

“The National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS) is proud to support Spokane in mapping its urban heat island. We hope the mapping efforts have been able to educate its citizens about heat and health issues, and that the The citizen science aspect of the mapping campaign is able to bring the community together to implement equitable, data-driven community solutions,” says Morgan Zabow, Climate and Health Outreach and Communications Coordinator for NOAA.

Project volunteers had their cars fitted with sensors provided by another project partner, CAPA Strategies. The sensors collect atmospheric data in real time, capturing temperature and humidity measurements every second when activated. Pairs of volunteers walked pre-determined routes throughout the day to collect more than 100,000 data points in total.

The data collection sensor is attached to a car window as two volunteers set out to collect heat and humidity data for the experiment.

Ben Brown, a senior environmental studies and economics student at Gonzaga and a climate project assistant for the Climate Center, saw the volunteers’ enthusiasm.

“Community science is a special thing, especially in the age of climate change,” Brown said. “We had so many people who wanted to help as much as possible, all motivated by the equitable betterment of their communities and neighbors.”

Volunteers ranged from students to retirees.

“The intersection of different professions, personalities and generations gives me hope in our fight for climate action,” Brown said. “Involvement at this level, in particular, invokes a sense of agency and fulfillment that drives our shared desire for justice.”

Urban Heat Island campaign maps will be created, analyzed and returned to the Climate Center within six to eight weeks.

In the meantime, a second facet of Spokane Beat the Heat is being launched, featuring a community-wide survey to learn more about Spokane residents’ perceptions and experiences of extreme heat. As an incentive, survey respondents will be eligible for either Gonzaga Men’s or Women’s Basketball tickets.

“Our hope for the community survey is to better understand how people in Spokane think about and experience extreme heat. The survey and maps together will provide a solid foundation for taking concrete steps toward a more resilient Spokane,” said Karli Honebein, program coordinator for the Climate Center.

Program Coordinator Karli Honebein (second from left) and Student Project Assistant Ben Brown (left) help Beat the Heat volunteers prepare to set off on their heat mapping route on Saturday, July 16.

The Climate Center will continue its work on climate resilience and climate literacy this school year. Now in its second year, the Center for Climate, Society and the Environment is expanding its efforts to Spokane.

Learn more about the Center for Climate, Society and the Environment

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