ABC Celebrates the Launch of our 2024 Temperature Sensor Pilot

A Better City was thrilled to officially launch its summer 2024 temperature sensor pilot last week at the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center! Through this project and joint partnership with The Boston Foundation, the City of Boston, and Boston University’s School of Public Health, area Better City is deploying 15 temperature sensors across heat island neighborhoods in Boston to better understand differences in lived heat experiences. Temperature sensors are being installed on member and partner organizations’ properties that measure air temperature and relative humidity in the 5 heat island neighborhoods of Boston’s Heat Plan (Chinatown, Dorchester, East Boston, Mattapan, and Roxbury), as well as in Allston-Brighton and Jamaica Plain. In each target neighborhood, two temperature sensors are being installed, one in a neighborhood hotspot location (according to the hottest parts of Boston’s heat maps) and one in a cool spot comparison location. To ensure continuity and build upon previous leadership, an additional “cool” sensor is also being installed at the Museum of Science along the Charles River, to connect to their earlier work on Wicked Hot Boston. For all sensor locations in target neighborhoods, in addition to locating sensors according to heat maps from Boston’s Heat Plan, sensors are being sited based on proximity to populations with multiple environmental justice social vulnerability criteria, or near communities of people who are on the frontlines of heat impacts and other social vulnerabilities (like energy burden, English isolation, air pollution and asthma rates, etc.).

Project Background

While Boston has fantastic examples of citizen science temperature mapping through projects like Wicked Hot Boston and Wicked Hot Mystic, as well as temperature sensor and data analysis work through C-HEAT in Chelsea and East Boston, there remains a significant data gap in measuring live temperature data across neighborhoods, particularly in Boston’s heat island hot spot neighborhoods of Chinatown, Dorchester, East Boston, Mattapan, and Roxbury. There is only one National Weather Service (NWS) station temperature sensor at Logan Airport, which determines the official temperature reading for Boston. To reach a declared heat emergency in Boston, this NWS station at Logan must register 95 degrees F or higher for 3 consecutive days, during which the nighttime temperature does not fall below 75 degrees F. As Boston’s 2022 Heat Plan and the Museum of Science/Mystic River Watershed’s Wicked Hot Boston project confirmed, hot spot neighborhoods can at times be 10-15 degrees warmer than surrounding neighborhoods during extreme heat. Although there are several instances in which heat island neighborhoods might experience heat emergency temperatures, they are likely not being counted in official heat emergency declarations, due to discrepancies in temperatures between hot spot neighborhoods and Logan Airport.

Through a temperature sensors pilot, ABC and our project partners will compare NWS temperature readings at Logan Airport with live temperature data from hot spot neighborhoods from June through the end of September. The goal of this pilot is to understand whether neighborhood-specific additional sensor data can be incorporated into more targeted heat emergency declarations and protocols for Boston. This pilot hopes to build upon existing research done by the City of Boston, C-HEAT team, and academic partners, and to help to lay the foundation for future work launching a permanent temperature monitoring network in partnership with the City of Boston, paired with a publicly accessible dashboard of temperature sensor data through a website similar to the Boston Public Schools terrabase online platform that monitors indoor air quality in BPS classrooms.

This project hopes to help empower Boston’s leadership, businesses, and community-based organizations to make evidence-informed heat intervention decisions, to fill existing data gaps in live temperature sensing data across neighborhoods, to learn more about what it might take to establish a permanent sensor network, and how such data might be utilized for longer-term heat resilience decision-making in the public and private sectors.

This project is generously funded by The Boston Foundation, and A Better City’s broader extreme heat work also is being funded through ongoing support from the Barr Foundation.

(From Left to Right: Zoë Davis (City of Boston, Environment Department), Isabella Gambill (A Better City), Jonathan Yedahm Lee (BUSPH), Ben Hires (BCNC), Ameera Saba (BUSPH), Julia Howard (The Boston Foundation), and Dr. Patricia Fabián (BUSPH/C-HEAT).

Photo Caption: The 2024 Heat Sensors Project Team at the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center (BCNC) with BCNC’s CEO Ben Hires, celebrating the installation of the first temperature sensor. Each sensor has a sticker with a QR code that will take folks to a one-pager describing the project, which has also been translated into 5 languages in addition to English: Spanish, Haitian Creole, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, and Vietnamese.

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