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Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences

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Thermal image of SCU Learning Commons

Thermal image of SCU Learning Commons

Breaking: ESS citizen science

ESS-led team maps urban heat in Silicon Valley

ESS-led team maps urban heat in Silicon Valley

Citizen scientist with thermal sensor

Citizen scientist with thermal sensor

ESS assistant professor C.J. Gabbe, together with Ken Davies (City of San Jose), John Davidson (City of Santa Clara), and Alex Varni '21 (Environmental Studies), led the inaugural urban heat island (UHI) community science campaign for Santa Clara and San Jose on August 26, 2020. The campaign was primarily funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and designed to support local cooperation to combat issues of extreme heat.

At the heart of this community science campaign was a dedicated group of passionate citizen scientists. The final roster of more than 35 volunteers included students and faculty from SCU, along with local community members and municipal staff. Alex Varni, a research assistant and the volunteer coordinator of the campaign, observed that “the collaborative nature of the community science campaign was truly exemplified in the volunteers, as passionate people from different cities and different disciplines came together to make a difference.”

On campaign day, 20 teams of volunteers drove predetermined hour-long routes at three times of day (6-7 am, 3-4 pm, and 7-8 pm) across the cities of San Jose and Santa Clara collecting data using sensors attached to their vehicles. The volunteers sampled air temperature and humidity across Santa Clara and San Jose, and this data will be used to model variation at a fine spatial resolution. Five other volunteers captured thermal images of various land use types using FLIR thermal imaging cameras.

Citizen scientists on their assigned route

Citizen scientists on their assigned route

The data collected from this campaign will be used in research, teaching, and policy development. For example, Dr. Gabbe and Alex Varni are co-authoring an article using these data focused on heat-related disparities by race and ethnicity and income in Silicon Valley. The results of the community science campaign—including interactive heat maps—will be released in early November at an online event, with details to follow.

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