Science Museum of Virginia leads team to study the city’s urban heat island

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Have you ever noticed that it gets hotter when you enter the city?

The Science Museum of Virginia’s Climate Scientist Dr. Jeremy Hoffman says a city can actually be about 20 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the surrounding countryside during a heat event.

This is due to what many are calling the city’s urban heat island. So what exactly is an urban heat island?

“Basically it is buildings, roads, no green space, taking heat and whirling it around, and releasing it back into the atmosphere so it’s actually a warming of the local climate basically due to the city itself,” Hoffman said.

During extreme heat, this effect is much greater, so a team from the Science Museum of Virginia is gathering volunteers from the University of Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Groundwork RVA to help with a study to map heat patterns within the city.

This urban heat island study is months in the making and it comes at a perfect time for the heat wave currently happening in Richmond.

“We’re going out in cars, bicycles, basically taking Richmond’s temperature,” Hoffman explains.

Each volunteer has a sensor mounted that takes a temperature reading every second in different areas all over the city. Their goal is to learn what parts of the city, what types of landforms and even what types of buildings and land uses contribute to this uneven heating.

“And that tells us what communities, what people might need resources allocated to them like cooling stations and where we might consider doing things like green roofs or green walls that actually work to cool down the local climate,” Hoffman said.

The attention to climate goes much further than just the science museum in Richmond.

Professor of Urban Studies at Portland State University, Vivek Shandas says, “There’s a climate action plan being developed here from the mayor’s office, there’s a tremendous amount of work happening in the museum, around questions like what’s it going to be like in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years living in the city in terms of your comfort level, temperature-wise. We get to use the city of Richmond as a scientific laboratory. It’s going to be amazing!”

Preliminary results will be in in a few weeks, with much more to be done in the coming months.

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