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South Texas border communities turn residents into scientists to study heat that endangers them

Sun over downtown San Antonio
Jerry Clayton
Scientists are trying to learn more about urban heat islands and the dangers they pose to residents' health.

Three South Texas border communities recently announced a partnership with the Rio Grande International Study Center (RGISC) to launch a heat mapping initiative.

CALOR, or "Climate Action in Laredo to Organize Resilience," is organized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Data will be gathered from Laredo, Rio Bravo, and El Cenizo using vehicle-mounted sensors. Officials hope to use the initiative to better understand the dangers of heat islands and develop strategies to effectively cool communities.

The RGISC is recruiting volunteers to help collect data.

For example, in a statement, RGISC Advocacy Campaign Manager Edgar Villasenor in Laredo said "that volunteers will use heat sensors on their own vehicles to gather critical temperature data throughout the city. This data will guide the placement of trees and shade structures, inform outreach efforts, and influence overall urban planning to cool our most vulnerable neighborhoods."

Academic teams are developing better understandings of urban heat islands, particularly in lower income parts of San Antonio, and how they diminish the quality of life for residents.

In 2021, the City of San Antonio partnered with The University of Texas at San Antonio to experiment with cool pavement — a water-based asphalt treatment that absorbs less heat and reflects more sunshine, as compared to traditional asphalt. The city explained that the treatment can help reduce evening temperatures after a hot day.

Weather experts are also learning more about the heat domes that can soar over huge regions of the U.S. The domes are often the reason for long stretches of dangerous days of heat. In June 2024, NPR published a useful explainer on the science behind heat domes.

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