As temperatures rise and city populations soar, the tendency of pavement-rich, plant-poor cities to heat faster and higher than their surroundings - known as the urban heat island effect - has become more than a fascinating phenomenon. It can send air conditioners into energy-sucking overdrive. It can alter precipitation and warm waterways, reducing their ability to provide quality habitat to plants and animals. In severe cases, it can literally be a life-or-death matter for elderly people and others who have trouble coping with heat.
Enter Islands in the Sun, a four-year research project funded by the Institute on the Environment and the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences and led by atmospheric scientists Peter Snyder and Tracy Twine. With the help of monitoring devices they're installing around the Twin Cities, Snyder and Twine are painting a picture of how temperatures vary in the Twin Cities metropolitan area over time and space. Their goal: to better understand the mechanisms behind the development of urban heat islands as a first step toward finding ways to lessen their effects through landscape design.
So far Islands in the Sun has installed 100 or so temperature sensors across the Twin Cities and surrounding suburbs. This summer a team of student workers will be installing 125 more. They'll also be taking readings from the Minneapolis Central Library, and Target Center green roof, the roof of the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul, and other downtown buildings. Once they have enough data collected, they'll use the information to determine where hot spots occur, what might be causing them, and what the Twin Cities - and, by extension, other cities - can do to cool them down.
Besides funding the research currently underway, the IonE Discovery Grant behind Islands in the Sun has leveraged a four-year, $750,000 National Science Foundation grant that will finance the development of an urban heat island research network. The network will bring together top researchers in the field to define grand challenge problems and support further research.
Like to learn more? Check out the project's website here.
Photo of Twin Cities by Doug Wallick, Creative Commons; photo of temperature sensor courtesy of Peter Snyder