MTSU Collaborates With Nashville Mayor’s Office, Community on Heat Data Collection to Help At-Risk Populations


For MTSU geosciences professor and researcher Alisa Hass and her collaborators at the Nashville, Tennessee, mayor’s office, a recent early morning research excursion was the result of months of hard work and preparation.

It was finally time to collect Nashville’s heat data as part of their research for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Heat Mapping Campaign to chart heat risk in an urban heat island environment — city areas that can be up to 20 degrees hotter than surrounding rural areas and neighborhoods.

“Community scientist” volunteers in Nashville, Tenn., participated in Music City’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Heat Mapping Campaign and drove assigned routes in the city on Aug. 14, 2022, with heat sensors attached to their car windows, like pictured here, to record temperature, humidity, time and location data. Researchers, including Middle Tennessee State University professor Alisa Hass, will analyze the data to better understand which areas of Nashville are most exposed to heat and what mitigation methods will be needed in the future to reduce exposure to at-risk populations. (MTSU photo by Stephanie Barrette)

The goal is to identify and help communities manage neighborhoods vulnerable to extreme heat.

Hass and Kendra Abkowitz, chief sustainability and resilience officer at the mayor’s office, set up at 5 a.m. Aug. 14 in the lobby of the Adventure Science Center in Nashville to oversee what was a true community effort.

“Community scientist” volunteers arrive at the Adventure Science Center in Nashville, Tenn., on Aug. 14, 2022, after their drive around an assigned route in the city with a heat sensor attached to their car window. The effort is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Heat Mapping Campaign research project for Nashville to better understand which areas of the city are most exposed to heat and what mitigation methods will be needed in the future to reduce exposure to at-risk populations. The research is being conducted by the Nashville mayor’s office in partnership with Middle Tennessee State University. (MTSU photo by Stephanie Barrette)

The two distributed heat sensors and instructions to the first shift of 10 “community scientist” volunteers who signed up for the 6 a.m. traverse. Volunteers drove an assigned, hour-long route no faster than 35 mph to record temperature, humidity, time and location data via the sensors attached to their car windows.

A mix of repeat and new volunteers helped collect data on two traverses later that day at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. to flesh out the temperature “picture” of Music City at different times.

After data collection, the research team shipped the sensors back to the supplier CAPA Strategies LLC to be analyzed, and the results will be publicly available, Hass said.

“This data will (then) be used by MTSU to develop future research opportunities with students and will be incorporated into courses in the Department of Geosciences,” she said.

“This is exciting as we will have very high-resolution, real-world data at our fingertips that will allow us to analyze the physical features that are affecting the intensity of the heat island in various locations throughout Nashville, as well as better understand who is most exposed to heat and what mitigation methods will be needed in the future to reduce exposure.”

Originally from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Hass has lived in Tennessee for over a decade and experienced many of the South’s scorching summers, explaining that heat exposure is a tangible, important issue because everyone encounters it.

“That made it really exciting to bring in the community (volunteers) to work with us on this type of research,” Hass said. “We like to educate the community, but we also like to show community members how this research actually works — how we are getting this data, where it’s coming from, how it affects them. We like to connect into the community, make sure the community understands what we’re doing and how they can benefit from this research.”

A ‘valuable’ collaboration 

Abkowitz, an MTSU alumna, said having the university involved in the project was very near and dear to her.

“Having completed my master’s degree at MTSU, it’s always wonderful to engage with the university in a very practical sense of being able to bridge the academic world to practicality … and to be able to do that with an institution where I went to school is very special,” Abkowitz said.

Adelle Monteblanco, another MTSU researcher involved with the project who recently relocated to Oregon, reached out to the mayor’s office to first alert them of the heat mapping campaign opportunity, Abkowitz explained.

“MTSU has been a great collaborator as part of this project,” she said. “It’s been wonderful to have the academic perspective on why it’s important to engage in heat mapping and how urban heat scientifically affects populations of different types. Having their early expertise as to why this is important to Nashville, help to rally local support for this effort and help all the way through execution has been very valuable.”

To learn how to get involved with Nashville’s heat mapping campaign research, contact Alisa Hass at [email protected].

To learn about all the research opportunities at MTSU for faculty and students, visit the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs website

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