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NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, announced this week it will be launching its seventh year of mapping heat islands across the country.

The Urban Heat Island mapping campaign focuses on helping communities address disparities causing extreme heat.

According to the organization, neighborhoods with fewer trees and more concrete can experience temperatures 20 degrees hotter than surrounding areas. For underserved and under-resourced communities, heat islands can lead to catastrophic outcomes.

Three decades of data shows extreme heat is the number one weather-related cause of death in the US. This heat disproportionately affects vulnerable communities with less access to healthcare.

“The burden of heat is not shared equally in our urban areas,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad. “Gathering this type of environmental intelligence helps communities measure their hottest places so they can develop strategies to reduce the dangerous effects of heat.

One recent community-led heat mapping campaign in Las Cruces, NM, showed just how wide the temperature gap can be.

Heat sensors measured a shaded, grassy area of the city read a temperature of roughly 92 degrees Fahrenheit. At the same time, a street intersection with few trees and ample concrete measured at over 137 degrees.

Heat mapping efforts designed to increase support in underserved areas

In the last seven years, the heat mapping initiative has supported over 70 communities to help mapping heat islands.

This year, the 18 cities receiving support include Oklahoma City, Chicago, Little Rock and others. Community members engaged in the campaign will be provided with heat sensors mounted to their cars or bikes. These volunteers will measure temperatures at three designated times throughout the day.

While local governments focus efforts on addressing inequities in the effects of global warming, data shows greenhouse gas emissions are increasing. NOAA reports that carbon dioxide levels rose by more than 2 parts per million in 2022. It marks the eleventh year in a row that CO2 levels have risen by more than 2ppm.

As greenhouse gasses lead to temperature rises across the globe, efforts like heat mapping become increasingly crucial. The Biden Administration has committed at least 40% of federal investment to be directed at underserved communities.

NOAA hopes Urban Heat Mapping initiatives will lead to increased tree planting, more cooling stations and renewed policy efforts in urban areas nationwide.

Nate Morris moved to the Tulsa area in 2012 and has committed himself to helping build a more equitable and just future for everyone who calls the city home. As a teacher, advocate, community organizer...

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