Sweating For Science: Walkers Help Find Solutions To Urban Heat

Published: Sunday, September 30, 2018 - 10:53am
Updated: Sunday, September 30, 2018 - 10:54am
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Bridget Dowd/KJZZ
Walkers wore trackers that stored data like air temperature, radiation levels, location and even their heart rate.

People in Phoenix’s Edison Eastlake neighborhood took part in a 2.5-mile walk Saturday. But they weren’t necessarily participating to get exercise.

The Heatmappers Walk and Ride started at Edison Park as part of a public science project. Arizona State University, the Museum of Walking and other organizations are trying to find ways to bring nature into cities and combat urban heat.

Maggie Messerschmidt manages the Urban Conservation Program at The Nature Conservancy. She said her organization has been talking to residents about how they’re coping with heat and trying to find solutions.

“So we decided to hold this event to A: to raise awareness, B: to create a baseline for thermal comfort that we could measure our progress for change against,” Messerschmidt said. “So what we’re really looking for here is what people’s collective experiences are on this hot day.”

Last year, there were more than 150 heat-related deaths in Maricopa County. It was the highest number on record for the area, according to a report from the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.

The Nature Conservancy found that many residents in the region say heat has a negative effect on their quality of life.

“That includes everything from how long you’re waiting at bus stops to not having shade cover,” Messerschmidt said. “[We’re] seeing if there isn’t a way to be thinking about our hot streets more productively in a way that could mitigate some of that heat.”

Jennifer Vanos is an assistant professor in the School of Sustainability at ASU. She said walkers wore trackers that stored data like air temperature, radiation levels, location and even their heart rate.

“Which is extremely important in understanding heat stress on a person, because it’s not just about the ambient environment,” Vanos said. “If someone’s working a lot harder and their heart rate is a lot higher, then they’re going to perceive the environment as hotter.”

Participants stopped at stations along the route and wrote down how they were feeling about the environment and their temperature. They also followed closely behind a mobile weather station that collected data from the neighborhood environment.

“So because we’ll know each person’s individual UV level because it’ll be a sensor on their wrist, then we’ll understand how much UV someone is exposed to on different streets and how design informs something like their risk to get a sunburn in this area,” Vanos said.

Vanos added that the more they know about what makes a streetscape hotter or cooler, the better equipped they’ll be to make communities more comfortable.

“It’s trying to find that happy medium where we can still have a community that is resilient and sustainable and comfortable to live in and that we can mitigate those small-scale heating effects that occur in urban areas, especially in the face of rising temperatures across the city and globally,” Vanos said.

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