Shenandoah University is seeking 10-12 volunteers to track how heat varies across Winchester in order to better understand where residents are most at risk during extreme heat waves.
The heat-assessment effort is part of a statewide initiative of more than a dozen colleges and universities in the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (VFIC) and was announced via a VFIC May 5 news release.
Participants are Shenandoah University, Bridgewater College, Emory & Henry College, Hampden-Sydney College, Hollins University, Marymount University, Randolph College, Roanoke College, Sweet Briar College, University of Lynchburg, University of Richmond, Virginia State University and Virginia Wesleyan University.
Students, faculty and staff from these schools will traverse their respective city or locality in Virginia with specially designed thermal sensors. Participants will drive, bike, and walk prescribed routes to record air temperatures and humidity over three specific times of the day during the hottest time of the summer, typically toward the end of July and the beginning of August.
The heat-assessment project, dubbed Heat Watch, involves collecting near-surface air temperature data for the purpose of relating temperatures to land uses like asphalt parking lots, community green spaces, and topography, according to the news release from VFIC. The project’s deliverables will include maps of air temperature and heat index, datasets of temperature observations, and a final report for each locality describing the methods, results and interpretations.
Participants at Shenandoah will be asked to volunteer about an hour at a time, three times a day (morning, mid-day and night). They will each monitor a different sector of Winchester, including urban areas, shopping strips, residential areas and land around schools.
“We know that climate change is out of control and we need to take steps before additional species are lost and human life is more adversely impacted than it already is. I encourage students from different disciplines to volunteer this summer because I think interdisciplinary work is tremendously important, and I hope that students also see that technology can be applied at the local level to address real-world issues.
Anne Marchant, Ph.D., director of the Division of Applied Technology and organizer of the heat-assessment project for Shenandoah
Previous heat-assessment campaigns in Richmond (2017), Norfolk (2018), and Roanoke (2020) revealed temperature differences as large as 16°F between the coolest and hottest places at the same time, spurring on local conversations about land-use policy and how marginalized communities often suffer the worst impacts of global warming, thereby perpetuating inequities.
Data generated by this project will tie into many existing programs and initiatives in the commonwealth, including those related to: public health, energy efficiency, climate change mitigation and resilience, emergency preparedness and management, urban forestry, land-use planning, equity and social justice, community partnerships, and student engagement.
“Community science initiatives like this heat mapping campaign have contributed immensely to our understanding of how environmental stressors are not felt equally across communities here in the commonwealth,” said Science Museum of Virginia Chief Scientist Dr. Jeremy Hoffman. “We look forward to supporting these community-focused projects, which not only help students connect science theory with real-life resiliency strategies they can apply in their communities, but also build social cohesion and help train the future green workforce.”
Project partners include CAPA Strategies, Capital One, the Science Museum of Virginia, and the Virginia Department of Forestry.
Shenandoah students, faculty and staff and members of the community who would like to volunteer for this project should contact Anne Marchant at firstname.lastname@example.org.