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Partnership between national lab and UA tracks extreme heat at neighborhood level

Posted at 3:49 PM, Jul 02, 2024

TUCSON, Ariz. — Researchers from Brookhaven National Laboratory are in Tucson this week to launch a pioneering study on extreme heat in urban environments, using advanced mobile labs and weather balloons.

The initiative, part of the $25 million Southwest Urban Corridor Integrated Field Laboratory project, aims to gather localized climate data to inform public policy and improve heat response efforts.

The team, led by Katia Lamer, director of the Center for Multiscale Applied Sensing at Brookhaven, employs state-of-the-art trucks equipped with sophisticated weather instruments.

“The mobile labs are actually a great scientific tool, as well as a great outreach tool,” Lamer said.

The trucks are designed to collect data at the neighborhood level, addressing gaps in climate information that hinder accurate predictions and assessments of heat inequities.

Partnering with scientists from the University of Arizona and the city of Tucson, the Brookhaven team is focusing on how different areas within the city experience heat.

“We can drive next to Tucson House and compare how hot that neighborhood is compared to another. This helps us track air quality at the street level where people live,” Lamer said.

The project involves releasing weather balloons with probes encased in coffee cups to measure temperature, humidity, wind speed, and air pollution.

The data collected will be used to develop reports and actionable goals for communities across the U.S. to mitigate the effects of extreme heat.

Ladd Keith, co-principal investigator for the project at UA, emphasized the importance of this research.

“This collaborative climate data collection effort across the state will provide our stakeholders with valuable information to better tailor heat response efforts based on community needs,” Keith said.

With extreme heat events becoming more frequent and severe due to climate change, the team's research is crucial.

Last year, heat-related deaths in Arizona reached a record high of 987.

“There are nearly no public climate instruments in most U.S. cities,” Lamer noted. “Our intel about climate conditions at the neighborhood scale is very sparse, which hinders our ability to make accurate predictions about the future.”

The Brookhaven team plans to return to Tucson over the next two years to continue their data collection, aiming to provide a comprehensive understanding of urban heat dynamics and help communities adapt to a changing climate.