Twin Cities Urban Heat Island study wants you!

Here’s your chance to get involved in a significant Urban Heat Island (UHI) study right here in the Twin Cities.

The “Islands in the Sun” project is the brain child of Peter Snyder and Tracy Twine at the University of Minnesota’s Soil, Water and Climate Department. The 4 year project will be the most detailed ever on the Twin Cities UHI.

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“Most urban areas are warming at twice the rate of the planet as a whole, thanks to a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect. Heat waves are expected to become increasingly frequent as climate changes.

Islands in the Sun seeks to better understand the mechanisms behind urban heat islands with a goal of finding ways to lessen their effects through landscape design. Given that more than half the global population lives in cities, there is urgent need to understand and mitigate urban heat island effects, especially during heat wave events when the risk of heat-related illness and mortality can increase dramatically.

The research team is:

1.quantifying factors that contribute to urban heat islands in the world’s 100 largest metropolitan areas;

2.developing a model to assess heat-island-mitigating landscape design strategies; and

3.evaluating the effectiveness of different engineering and landscape design solutions in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.”

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Heat Waves. This hypothetical graph shows how daytime and nighttime temperature vary in the vicinity of a large city. Notice how daytime temperature is higher over heat-reflecting buildings and lower over a water body, which acts as a heat sink. Illustration courtesy of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Heat Island Reduction Program

Here’s the scoop on how to volunteer from the Islands in the Sun website.

“We are setting up a dense network of temperature sensors around the Twin Cities Metro Area to measure the spatial and temporal variability of temperatures in a variety of urban and suburban environments. The goal of the project is to learn more about the behavior of the urban heat island effect in a large northern latitude metropolitan area. We are currently determining sites based on location and land characteristics.

If you live in the Twin Cities Metro Area and are interested in participating by housing a sensor on your property please follow the link provided below. The sensors are small (several inches long) and should not detract from your backyard aesthetics. We might contact you if we think your property might fall within our criteria. Please note that your interest does not guarantee that your site will be selected–it is possible that your location will not meet our selection criteria.

If selected, we will install a temperature sensor outside your house somewhere on your property and ask that it remain for 2-4 years. There is nothing required of you–the sensor is self-contained and automatically logs readings. We must have access to the sensor every 2-3 months to download data. We will be happy to provide the data for your site to you if you are interested.”

MPR listener and weather spy Justin Heideman signed up to volunteer and his location was selected. He sent me this shot of the sensor at his home.

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“Hey Paul,

I saw your post on Updraft a couple weeks ago and signed up for the Islands in the Sun study. I thought I’d let you know that it was a piece of cake signing up and getting the sensor installed. Installation by the grad or under-grad student took about 5 minutes. They installed it on my clothesline pole and it’s totally out of the way. I hope that this study is able to provide some useful data about the UHIE.”

It will be great to watch this study unfold over the next few years. I’ve often observed temps easily 10 degrees warmer in the inner Twin Cities on clear calm nights when UHI is maximized.

I’ve also spoken many times with University of Arizona Geography and Climate specialist Dr. Andrew Comrie about the UHI in Tucson. As expected, his studies have found large differences around Tucson, especially in spring.


  • Christian

    I volunteered and posted the studies link to my Facebook profile to encourage others to volunteer. You wouldn’t happen to have any idea how many sensors they hope to deploy and do they have any plans to put up interactive maps of the sensor data?