TCNJ Heat Island and Air Quality Project

January 18, 2023

Table of Contents

    The problem

    A growing body of research demonstrates that the adverse impacts of rising temperatures due to climate change are particularly acute in urban areas with sparse vegetation due to what scientists call the “heat island effect.” Research shows that heat islands are disproportionately found in low-income communities and communities of color. A 2020 study by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) found that New Jersey notes that the state is warming more quickly than most states in the nation and in the Northeast region. NJDEP climate models cited in the same study project that heatwaves will grow more severe in the coming decades, with far-reaching impacts on human health. To name just one example, in a 2022 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, Aaron Bernstein, et. al. reviewed records of pediatric emergency room visits from 47 hospitals in 27 US states and found a strong correlation between intense heat waves and pediatric emergency visits.

    The need: Address "data gaps;" develop effective communications strategies

    In a 2020 paper published in the International Journal of Geo-Information, Samain Sabrin, et. al. argued that effectively addressing heat island effects requires air quality and temperature data at the neighborhood level, because the geographies of urban areas can create lots of variation from one section of a community to another. They developed a model for studying the combined impact of excessive heat and particular matter pollution in neighborhoods in Camden, New Jersey.

    Trenton, New Jersey shares many characteristics with Camden that underscore the need for this kind of granular data: concentrated poverty, neighborhoods with lots of concrete and asphalt and limited vegetation, brownfields, substandard housing, and other negative social determinants of health. Like Camden, Newark, and many other cities, the

    Although the [Urban heat islands] phenomena have been extensively studied in more than 400 cities around the world, their impacts on air quality and consequently human health have not been sufficiently evaluated or quantified to educate the public. In order to implement proper interventions, health officials and planners need fine scale information that identifies the risk of exposure at the neighborhood level.

    —Sabrin, Samain, Maryam Karimi, and Rouzbeh Nazari. 2020. "Developing Vulnerability Index to Quantify Urban Heat Islands Effects Coupled with Air Pollution: A Case Study of Camden, NJ" ISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information 9, no. 6: 349.

    Our initial project goal:

    To respond to this challenge, a multidisciplinary group of faculty and undergraduate students at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) is collaborating with each other and community partners on the creation of information tools that make it easy to identify surface urban heat island risks at the neighborhood level, while providing useful information for staying safe. We envision something similar to the air quality indicator tools at that would provide both heat index and air quality information at the neighborhood level to community residents, combined with engaging explanatory articles, videos and graphics that will make the information accessible to lay audiences in the communities surrounding our campus, which is just outside Trenton, New Jersey. The project began in the fall of 2022 and will continue through the 2022-3 academic year.

    Operational details of the collaboration

    (from the August, 2022 project description document)

    The participating faculty and students come from the disciplines of physics, environmental sustainability education, integrative STEM education, public health and journalism. They include:

    • Prof. Kim Pearson and her Journalism and Professional Writing students will prepare contextual reporting on the problems associated with climate change and heat islands, and help curate existing data relevant to the heat island problem in our region. They will also be responsible for publishing the project online and engaging local media.

    • Prof. Nathan Magee, TCNJ Physics department and his research students are deploying balloons with sensors that will capture important atmospheric temperature and air quality information at the neighborhood level, down to a range of 200 square meters.

    • Prof. Lauren Madden and her TCNJ Environmental Sustainability Education students will collaborate with Prof. Magee and a local secondary school to place air monitoring equipment at a local middle school and to involve the school’s teachers and students in the collection of air quality data.

    • Prof. Melissa Zrada of TCNJ’s Integrative STEM Education department will guide the design of the data visualization tool.

    • Prof. Natasha Patterson and her Public Health Policy students will provide background material on the public policy, legal and regulatory issues associated with the project.

    • Prof. Karen Allyn Gordon will contribute her expertise on epidemiology and public health education to the project.

    December 2022 project status report by Prof. Magee and his research students

    Fall, 2022 Guest speakers and visitors

    The speakers and visitors to the Health and Environmental Journalism class listed here are in addition to the collaborating faculty, each of whom sat for interviews with the whole class, recommended readings, sourcees and contacts, and gave interviews to individual students for their particular projects.

    Ambreen Ali Environmental journalist and media entrepreneur
    Diane Bates Professor, TCNJ Department of Sociology and Anthropology; Author, Superstorm Sandy: The Inevitable Destruction and Reconstruction of the New Jersey Shore
    Lazaro Gamio Information designer, graphics editor, New York Times
    Michael Jennings Communications director, PSEG

    Health and Environmental Journalism students collaborative presentation

    TCNJ AIMM After Dark showcase

    December 9, 2022

    Fall, 2022 News stories

    Explanatory stories

    Solutions stories

    Related TCNJ Projects

    Project name and URL Affiliated TCNJ Faculty Description
    Project SEA: Science, Education, Action Lauren Madden, Nathan Magee A professional development initiative that helps K-8 teachers in New Jersey to: include marine science topics in their lessons that address climate change and implement NJ science curriculum standards
    Air Sampling project Alexis Mraz, Karen Ally Gordon A collaboration with New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Rider University, and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission to understand air quality and parameters that affect air quality in Trenton and the surrounding areas.
    Preparing Highly Qualified Physics Teachers Nathan Magee (Principal Investigator), Lauren Madden (co-PI),AJ Richards, (co-PI), Melissa Bellino, (co-PI),Melissa Chester, Ass't. Director, NOYCE Project Wherefore Art Thou, Physics Teacher?
    Collaborating Across Boundaries to Engage Undergraduates in Science Learning Monisha Pulimood, (Principal Investigator), Diane Bates (co-PI), Kim Pearson (co-PI), Nathan Magee (Faculty collaborator), Melissa Zrada (faculty collaborator) CAP project portal

    Next steps

    Work will continue on locating and placing monitoring stations in locations in Trenton and Ewing where there are data gaps. For Prof. Magee and his students, the goal is to place five weather stations and five air quality monitoring stations. Prof. Magee and Prof. Madden continue to work with local schools and environmentally-focused nonprofits on this.

    Prof. Magee, Prof. Zrada and their students will collaborate on analyzing, visualizing and communicating the data emerging from this semester's work.

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