Mapping our urban heat island, by bike

 OSU students with the sensors they helped design. 

OSU students with the sensors they helped design. 

Yay Bikes! welcomes member Jason Cervenec, Education & Outreach Director at Byrd Polar & Climate Research Center, to share what he's working on and how cyclists can help. 

A team from OSU’s Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center and Department of Geography, in collaboration with the College of Engineering, has created a fleet of small, low-cost sensors to measure temperature and relative humidity. The team hopes that these sensors can provide better information about the urban heat island in cities around the country. More information on why we are interested in measuring the urban heat island is provided below.

We are looking for 5–6 bike commuters who are willing and able to attach a device to the front of their bikes for a week or two to collect data during their normal commutes. Almost everything about the device is automated. Volunteers would only need to mount the sensor on the front of their bikes (heat due to a rider can interfere with readings if mounted on the back), turn the device on at the start of the ride and off at the end of the ride, and charge the device nightly. Our team anticipates that front mounting will be the most challenging part of volunteering (from our experience, wire baskets make installation the easiest).

All rides will take place in July. If you are interested in volunteering for the project, please contact Ryan Cummings at cummings.287@osu.edu. This project is sponsored by a Battelle Engineering, Technology and Human Affairs (BETHA) Endowment Grant.

 Sensors being tested on a Zagster bike. 

Sensors being tested on a Zagster bike. 

Why do we care about measuring the urban heat island?

One result of human-induced climate change is the increase in Earth’s globally averaged temperature by a possible 3 ºCelsius by 2100 on our current emissions trajectory (IPCC, 2013). Elevated temperatures are particularly acute for urban settings due to radiative feedbacks with the built environment, leading to the urban heat island (UHI) (Arnfield, 2003). For the first time in history, over 50% of Earth’s inhabitants reside in urban areas, and this percentage is projected to grow (United Nations Population Fund, 2007). The UHI, with its associated micro-climate perturbations, causes direct and indirect impacts on human well-being. Extreme urban temperatures can result in increased incidents of death when individuals do not have access to cooling (Klinenberg, 2003). Individuals who die during these extreme temperature events are disproportionately the elderly who lack social networks and individuals living in high crime areas. Temperature increases have already reduced the labor capacity in peak temperature months to 90% of levels a few decades ago, and it is expected to be reduced to 80% by 2050 (Dunne et al., 2013). Therefore, a significant amount of the world’s population will benefit from a better understanding of the UHI and how infrastructure could better mitigate its impact.

To address these needs, we developed an innovative UHI education-research project to meet complementary needs for better observations and problem-based STEM learning. A diverse group of science and engineering students designed and built an inexpensive and lightweight device, to collect geo- and time-tagged temperature data when deployed on moving vehicles, and to create a database, to store and assimilate data collected by the device that will be analyzed in student projects and laboratory classes. The project team continues to collect data and refine the device hardware and software.