Montgomery County doctors conduct urban heat mapping project / Public News Service

Maryland’s most populous county is embarking on an urban heat mapping project to better understand neighborhood heat inequalities, which can affect residents’ health.

Montgomery County has been selected to participate in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Urban Heat Mapping Campaign this summer.

The county is looking for residents who will volunteer to serve as citizen scientists, installing heat sensors on their cars to travel to different neighborhoods one day this summer.

Laura Sivels, climate engagement program manager at the county Department of Environmental Protection, said the data will help determine why some communities are warmer than others.

“The built environment — so all the asphalt, the concrete that happens in urban areas — retains heat at a higher rate than the natural environment, than trees and grass,” Sivels said. “When it’s hot and sunny, urban areas retain that heat. They continue to emit it, throughout the afternoon and evening.”

Heat inequalities will be tracked in 14 states and two international cities as part of the NOAA project. The sensors will record temperature, humidity, time and location.

Sivels said he has received interest from more than 200 volunteers so far and expects to begin training in July.

Affected areas include Gaithersburg, Germantown, Rockville, Silver Spring and Wheaton. Sivels said it was important to look at communities that vary in demographics, to help inform policy decisions going forward.

“Every time we feel that heat, not everyone feels it the same way,” Sivels said. “Not everyone has access to the financial means to adapt to this heat, whether that means driving or commuting to work rather than taking the bus, or finding somewhere with air conditioning. ‘having the option to stay home and work indoors rather than working outdoors.”

Urban heat has historically had a disproportionate impact on low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. NOAA conducted similar research in Baltimore in 2018 and found that some neighborhoods were 16 degrees hotter than others at the same time of day.

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