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Heat mapping project led by King County and City of Seattle will identify areas experiencing the most harmful effects of rising temperatures

Summary

A heat mapping project co-led by King County and City of Seattle will identify which areas experiencing the most harmful effects of rising temperatures. The data collected by volunteers will inform county and city strategies to prepare the region for climate impacts.

Story

King County and City of Seattle today are conducting a heat mapping project to record ground-level temperature data that identifies which areas are most likely to experience the harmful health effects of rising temperatures.

Volunteers will record temperature data while driving designated routes in Seattle and King County at three different times during the day. The temperature data, collected at one-second intervals, will be used to create a detailed area-wide map of local temperatures that take into account the effects of trees, buildings, and pavement on neighborhood temperatures.

The results of the study will help inform actions that King County and City of Seattle take to prepare the region as climate change contributes to hotter summers.

“The heat mapping project will provide us with the current, reliable data we need to support communities that are disproportionately experiencing the harmful effects of rising temperatures,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “The results of this scientific research will inform community-led solutions to the extreme heat events that are occurring more frequently as the result of climate change.”

“We know that our Black, Indigenous, and people of color neighbors are disproportionately burdened by climate change and extreme heat events. As our communities speak up and demand that we better address systemic racism, we must prioritize projects that identify and address the inequitable burden placed on our communities of color,” said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. “This research project will help us identify where microclimates of highly heated zones in the city exist, and give us the data we need to plan more resilient communities moving forward.”

The temperature between city blocks can vary by as much as 20 degrees Fahrenheit due to differences in the amount of paved surfaces and tree canopy. The heat mapping project will help King County and City of Seattle better understand where and how buildings and other hard surfaces can raise temperatures and limit nighttime cooling.

The county and city are partnering with CAPA Strategies, a climate consulting firm that works with municipal governments, non-profits, universities, and businesses to describe hyper-local hazards, such as extreme heat, and develop solutions the build resilience and adaptive capacity with and for communities. The National Weather Service is providing additional technical support.

“The convergence of environmental sensing technologies, analytical techniques, and concerns about the disproportionate impacts of climate change on historically underserved communities brings an unprecedented ability for us to improve the information we use for decision making,” said Dr. Vivek Shandas, Principal at CAPA Strategies. “We offer a direct means for engaging in direct observation of neighborhood conditions, which supports communities in taking action to safeguard against rising temperatures and other climate-induced hazards.” 

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Volunteers will record temperatures in 15 geographic areas that include urban, suburban, and rural landscapes. Project volunteers will mount sensors on the passenger side of their cars, recording the temperature every second during the one-hour drive times. The volunteers will record temperatures at three different times, starting at  6 a.m., 3 p.m., and 7 p.m.

Data from the heat mapping project will be used to inform heat mitigation strategies like tree planting, community cooling centers, and energy efficiency retrofits. The information will also inform Executive Constantine’s efforts to improve access to greenspace in the areas where they are needed most, including areas identified as urban heat islands. 

Increases in emergency medical calls, hospitalizations, and mortality

Research conducted at the University of Washington has shown an increase in emergency medical services calls, hospitalizations, and mortality in the King County region with hotter temperatures. 

Groups most at risk of health impacts from heat include children, older adults, outdoor workers, low-income households, people who are socially isolated, pregnant women, and people with chronic medical conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and mental health conditions.

While temperatures in the Puget Sound region are lower than many other metropolitan regions in the United States, there is less cooling infrastructure and fewer homes with air conditioning. Increasing the number of homes with air conditioning could strain the region's electrical grid. 

The Land Conservation Initiative that Executive Constantine launched in 2018 has accelerated the pace of land acquisition, which includes protecting greenspace in urban communities that provide relief during extreme heat events. In his proposal for the 2020 Strategic Climate Action Plan, Executive Constantine wants to build on the successful partnership that planted one million trees throughout the region, prioritizing tree canopy in underserved communities


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Quotes

The heat mapping project will provide us with the current, reliable data we need to support communities that are disproportionately experiencing the harmful effects of rising temperatures. The results of this scientific research will inform community-led solutions to the extreme heat events that are occurring more frequently as the result of climate change.

Dow Constantine, King County Executive

We know that our Black, Indigenous, and people of color neighbors are disproportionately burdened by climate change and extreme heat events. As our communities speak up and demand that we better address systemic racism, we must prioritize projects that identify and address the inequitable burden placed on our communities of color. This research project will help us identify where microclimates of highly heated zones in the city exist, and give us the data we need to plan more resilient communities moving forward.

Jenny Durkan, Seattle Mayor

The convergence of environmental sensing technologies, analytical techniques, and concerns about the disproportionate impacts of climate change on historically underserved communities brings an unprecedented ability for us to improve the information we use for decision making. We offer a direct means for engaging in direct observation of neighborhood conditions, which supports communities in taking action to safeguard against rising temperatures and other climate-induced hazards.

Dr. Vivek Shandas, Principal, CAPA Strategies

For more information, contact:

Chad Lewis, Department of Natural Resources and Parks, 206-263-1250
Sara Wysocki, Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment, 206-233-7014