'Urban Heat Island,' Nashville 1 of 14 cities chosen for urban heat mapping campaign

downtown nashville
Posted at 7:04 PM, Jul 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-20 20:04:12-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Have you ever driven up James Robertson Parkway and enjoyed the beautiful, green view of the grassy median and trees? While it adds to the drive, it also has an important value to people: relief from dangerous heat!

As we head into the hottest months of the year, areas like downtown Nashville, North Nashville and places with a lack of green space pose a threat when it comes to heat.

When asked about the specific communities impacted by extreme heat, Metro Nashville's chief Sustainability and Resilience officer, Dr. Kendra Abkowitz, told NewsChannel 5, “When we look at heat waves and extreme weather events, they tend to disproportionately impact communities of color.”

It’s because of these disproportions that Nashville has been selected as one of 14 cities to participate in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Urban Heat Island Mapping Campaign.

The campaign, which began in 2017, works with cities and volunteers from each city to gather temperature and humidity from special sensors attached to volunteers’ vehicles during three specific times of the day.

According to Middle Tennessee State University Department of Geosciences Professor Dr. Alisa Hass, this is something to be excited about because while many cities apply to be a part of this, only a few cities are actually selected.

“The exciting part is we actually get to get straight model data on heat throughout the urban core,” Hass said.

The task at hand is rather large, as the goal is to determine locations in Nashville where “Heat Island,” caused by a lack of green space and lots of concrete and buildings, is greatest.

“There's two different parts," said Hass. "We can mitigate heat. So, we can actually reduce the amount of heat in an urban area by planting more trees, removing concrete, anything to make it lots of less packed buildings, less concrete. The other part is adaptation; so, when the heat is actually here, how do we make sure our bodies cool down? Making sure we're not taking on too much heat at once — that can be water misters, that can be cooling centers.”

Helping to add more green space and break up trees are two organizations, Root Nashville and Cumberland River Impact.

"They are actually breaking up pavement," Hass said. "They have a program called 'de-pave.' They'll break up pavement and replant that with more vegetation. That's really helpful in reducing urban heat. The other thing some places are doing — I know MTSU has done this, along with UT — is that they will remove concrete and put pavers down. That allows water to infiltrate through the soil and help with cooling."

According to Abkowittz, this “City on the Rise” is considering additional strategies to help with the Urban Heat Island.

“Two strategies that I think are well suited to explore for a growing city are cooling pavements as well as green roofs and vegetative roofs. I think with either of those measures, understanding where they are functional and feasible is really important. Those are definitely strategies that could be deployed again, where circumstances would be suitable for that. Heat mapping information could help us understand where those types of installations are most necessary,” said Abkowittz.

Once the heat mapping project begins in August, the city is planning on the heat sensing to take place early morning, early afternoon and late at night. Nashville’s hope is that they can get 500 volunteers to sign up for this project.

If interested in participating in the Heat Mapping project, contact Dr. Abkowitz by emailing