UNMC to map the hottest parts of Omaha, identify heat inequities

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Published: Apr. 27, 2022 at 10:32 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center will take part in a nationwide study that will map the hottest parts of cities around the United States.

The study is through the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Integrated Heat Health Information System. 14 cities across America are taking part.

“It’s likely that heat kills more people in the U.S. than any other climate or weather-related disaster,” says Jesse Bell, the Director of the Claire M. Hubbard Water, Climate and Health program.

This summer, on a hot, dry day, likely in July, several dozen volunteers will bike or drive across 65 square miles of Omaha streets with heat sensors. The sensors will measure the temperature and their location every second.

“Heat is important because we need to actually understand how heat impacts human health here in the United States,” Bell says.

The data will show them urban heat islands and will identify which parts of the city are the hottest.

“When I talk about urban heat island, is basically what we’re trying to understand is the exposure of extreme heat here in Omaha. In urban environments, you see an increase in heat as you move more into the metro area, there’s more concrete, less green space, and that causes more extreme heat.”

Many hot spots are also typically in underserved and poorer communities. A major focus of the project will focus on areas of Omaha that were redlined in the 1900s and compare their heat distribution to areas not historically segregated.

“That helps us understand what populations are more vulnerable and at-risk to extreme heat events so that we can help put in mitigation and different activities to try to reduce the exposure of those populations,” Bell says.

“This is interesting because this is not only public health, we are talking about all the social determinants, not only related to health but related to the social living of each member of the community,” says UNMC Ph.D. student Aziz Abdoulaye, who is helping organize the volunteers and maps.

“Even though those maps that were done in the ‘30s might not exist today, you can see that the people that are still living there definitely are still experiencing these consequences of historical redlining that happened in the ‘30s,” Abdoulaye adds.

Abdoulaye says the hope is that the data will help shape Omaha’s future climate plan and lead to policies or actions that will help protect already vulnerable communities.

“The way we build our houses might change maybe, the type of materials we use to build houses might change, the type of tree covers in these areas, so there’s a lot of things that come into play with these results,” he says.

The identification of hot spots in Omaha could also lead to more tree planting, planning for green spaces, and the creation of cooling centers in the summer.

Abdoulaye also hopes the results will lead to more investment in underserved areas, and a more equitable way of life all-around, not just in the public health setting.

“Why not get more investment in these areas, because that’s what we really need at the end of the day, we need people to invest in those areas, that’s the opportunity they were not given in the ‘30s.”

If you’re interested in signing up to help researchers gather data during the one-day event, you can contact Abdoulaye here.

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