Can we turn down the temperature on urban heat islands?

JIM MORRISON / YALE ENVIRONMENT 360 – The volunteers fanned out across cities from Boston to Honolulu this summer, with inexpensive thermal monitors resembling tiny periscopes attached to their vehicles to collect data on street-level temperatures. Signs on their cars announcing “Science Project in Progress” explained their plodding pace — no more than 30 miles-per-hour to capture the dramatic temperature differences from tree-shaded parks to sun-baked parking lots to skyscraper-dominated downtowns.

The work of these citizen scientists is part of a new way of studying the urban heat island effect, with volunteers mapping two dozen cities worldwide in recent years. Past studies of urban heat islands — in which metropolitan areas experience significantly higher temperatures than their surroundings — have relied on satellite data that measures the temperature reflected off rooftops and streets. But Vivek Shandas, a professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University in Oregon and a researcher leading the project, says the urban heat island effect is more complicated and subtler than satellite data indicates …

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