Transforming Students into Climate Scientists through Urban Heat Island Investigations

Friday, 11 December 2020
Mary Anne Woody1,2, Anais Teyton3, Lucy Piacentini2, Matthew Bilik4, Marlon Rice5, Hamidreza Norouzi6 and Reginald Blake7, (1)Xavier High School, Manhattan, NY, United States, (2)NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, NY, United States, (3)University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, United States, (4)Brooklyn Technical High School, Brooklyn, NY, United States, (5)Magnolia Tree Earth Center, Brooklyn, NY, United States, (6)CUNY New York City College of Technology, Brooklyn, NY, United States, (7)CUNY New York City College of Technology, Civil Engineering Department, Brooklyn, NY, United States
Due to their daily impacts on students' lives, it is imperative that schools implement rigorous instruction on climate change and earth system sciences. The Urban Heat Island Effect (UHIE) is a geophysical phenomenon that is expected to worsen in cities as they get warmer. Urban climate science underscores that cities are hotter than their surrounding suburban and rural regions. These warmer city temperatures are due primarily to several factors that include: increased anthropogenic activities, urban contiguity, man-made surfaces of low albedo and high emissivity, and decreased greenery.

This project presents a unit plan that seeks to engage students, particularly in urban areas, in studying the effects of climate change through an interactive unit on the Urban Heat Island Effect. Unit plan development was made possible by the Climate Change Research Initiative (CCRI) program at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The program creates teams of researchers that each consist of scientists, an educator, and students from the graduate, undergraduate and high school levels.

The unit plan mimics a climate research project. Students will engage with a variety of data sets: satellite, ground-based and public health demographic data to understand the scope and the impacts of the UHIE. They will utilize NASA satellite data and visualization software to explore land surface temperature trends, and they will also use infrared (IR) cameras to collect temperature data and explore various urban surfaces (including vegetated surfaces) for heat retention. Students will then examine public health data to analyze risk factors for heat vulnerability. The unit culminates in a capstone project in which students will brainstorm city planning designs to mitigate UHIE factors and thereby improve living conditions for members of vulnerable communities.

In addition to bringing current state-of-the-art research into the classroom, this unit plan integrates research practices as well. The curriculum seeks to join science concepts, everyday experiences and real-world applications so that students will experience how the multi-dimensional problem of climate change affects their lives and how to combat those effects.