In the summer of 2019, the Museum of Science, Boston, (MOS) studied the impact of extreme heat and the urban heat island effect through community-based participatory science, otherwise known as citizen science. Nicknamed “Wicked Hot Boston,” the summer’s focus was on connecting community science to previously developed deliberation forum materials on extreme heat.
By focusing on citizen science projects related to extreme heat, we hope to immerse the public in learning about this important issue and build a greater understanding of how heat affects some areas more than others. Bringing the community into the discussion will aid in creating more compressive and inclusive resiliency plans for the Boston metro area. MOS engaged participants in two complementary community-based participatory science projects; the first was an online platform called ISeeChange and the second involved mapping the Boston area to measure the urban heat island effect.
Throughout the entire summer, we used citizen science platform called ISeeChange, where participants documented and learned more about the changing environment around them. Posts on ISeeChange’s app or website typically included pictures and descriptions of weather and climate, and anyone anywhere in the world could post to ISeeChange about changes in their communities. By working with the creators of ISeeChange, we were able to have an extreme heat investigation for the greater Boston metro area. Anyone within this area could post their observations to this investigation, while being able to interact with other citizen scientists in the area. Posts included highlighting areas that were hotter in the city, areas that had trees or water features to cool down, or how community members were dealing with the heat.
The second project involved community-based participatory urban heat island mapping throughout Boston, Cambridge and Brookline, MA. This method was developed by CAPA Strategies, Portland State University, and the Science Museum of Virginia. MOS worked with city planners in Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline to apply these methods by dividing the three cities into ten mapping routes, as well as recruiting community-based participatory scientists from all areas. On July 29, 2019, MOS’s heat mapping campaign day kicked off with close to 50 citizen scientists who made up of a diverse group of participants from NGOs, city planners, university students, and professionals. Citizen science teams were made up of at least one driver and one navigator, who drove together during hour-long mapping periods of 6am, 3pm and 7pm. In a majority of the situations, the driver and navigator did not know each other in order to foster relationships and create new conversations within the unique environment. The 3-D printed car mount and heat-sensing equipment allowed citizen scientists to attach a sensor device to their car and record the temperature and geospatial data of the surrounding areas.
By measuring ambient air temperature, the air we breathe and feel, city planners can more accurately assess the potential health impacts of extreme heat. These data are going to provide the cities with high resolution temperature data throughout the entire day, which can then be layered with other factors such as tree canopy, surface temperature, income level, elderly population, or emergency room visits. By comparing heat maps with maps of various population demographics city planners and researchers can learn which groups are most affected by urban heat. Furthermore, with the addition of ISeeChange posts, city planners are able to obtain both qualitative and quantitative data of extreme heat in the area in order to truly access how the community is feeling during these heat events.
By engaging citizen scientists in two complementary community-based participatory science projects, we hope for higher levels of understanding in climate hazards as well as increasing understanding about building community resilience to extreme heat. The culmination of the Wicked Hot Boston phase of the project is a public forum planned for in September 2019, in which the citizens that helped to heat map as well as post to ISeeChange will be able to see the final maps, interact with city planners and government officials, and discuss resiliency options for extreme heat in the Boston area. This event will engage civic partners and public participants to allow voices to be heard and level of understanding on extreme heat to increase.
Wicked Hot Boston is the first phase of a larger project This phase will be evaluated and revised in order to create the format and citizen science materials for the other climate hazards: extreme precipitation, sea level rise, and drought. In partnership with SciStarter, Arizona State University, Northeastern University, and the National Informal Science Education Network, MOS is working on a project to engage public participants in citizen science and resilience planning on climate hazards through a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) funded project called Citizen Science, Civics, and Resilient Communities (CSCRC). In the second year of the project, 8 science centers around the country will be able to pick which hazard they would like test at their sites, before the project expands to 20 other science centers in the projects third and final year.