UT-Austin, the city of Austin and Austin community tackle extreme heat

Kevin Vu, News Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the July 12 flipbook.

As heat waves break records across the nation, some Austinites are becoming more vulnerable to the risks of the extreme temperatures due to a lack of resources. 

UT-Austin researchers are partnering with the city of Austin and East Austin community organizations to track hot spots across the city and analyze how people are affected by the temperatures to present solutions for cooling.

Dev Niyogi, project lead and a professor in the department of geological sciences, said urban heating is a major problem that is causing increasing temperatures. Urban environments and cities like Austin are often hotter than rural areas due to roads, roofs and pollution absorbing more heat than open land, Niyogi said. 

“One of the things we want to understand is the role of large-scale as well local features like urbanization and pollution that (are) causing heating,” Niyogi said. 

Niyogi said the team of researchers will measure temperatures throughout Austin over the summer using a combination of satellite data and electronic sensors carried in vehicles, bikes or on foot. These methods will allow researchers to track both the air and surface temperatures throughout the city.

Niyogi said in addition to temperature tracking, the team will collect feedback from residents of East Austin to learn more about their lived experiences in the heat. 

Frances Acuña, a climate resilience community lead organizer with Go Austin/Vamos Austin, a community organization in East Austin aimed at strengthening health equity in their community, said her organization is helping researchers get feedback from the community through surveys and interviews.

“If residents work with the city, they can meet in the middle,” Acuña said. “They’re able to build a better plan, a plan that works equitably because you are using the residents that are most impacted by this climate stressors.”

Marc Coudert, environment conservation program manager with the city of Austin Office of Sustainability, said the project will focus on East Austin’s community because the team wants to highlight areas that have fewer resources and are most affected by extreme heat.

“If you can afford to put in more insulation, have a new house, have a really efficient air condition, then you’re probably less sensitive to heat,” Coudert said. “If you have an older home or (live) in a rental apartment that has less investments, need to take a bus or two to get to and from work or to and from the health facilities and grocery stores or school, you’re probably more sensitive.”

Niyogi said after collecting the temperature data, the team will create heat maps that will show which areas are affected most severely by varying temperatures. Coudert said, using community feedback along with the heat maps, they will present both data sets and potential solutions to community members and city officials to help cool these areas.

“We want to make sure we’re making the right decisions to have the most amount of impact. (We also want to) make sure that we’re making decisions that don’t have unintended consequences because sometimes we make decisions without community feedback, and there are unintended consequences,” Coudert said.