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Map of heat islands in United States

University of Tennessee Researchers and Students to Lead Heat Mapping Project

Multi-Faceted Effort Will Identify Urban Heat Islands in Knoxville

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), extreme heat kills more Americans than any other weather event. In fact, the CDC estimates there are over 600 heat-related deaths every year in the United States. However, due to geographic and social factors, not everyone’s risk is the same.

This summer, researchers and students from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will conduct a city-wide heat mapping project in Knoxville, Tennessee, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The UT team is comprised of researchers and students from Public Health, Social Work and Geography and will map urban heat islands around the city.

Urban heat islands are a phenomenon caused by unshaded roads, buildings, and large areas of concrete that absorb heat during the day and radiate that heat into the surrounding air. In fact, in many highly developed urban areas, the temperatures can soar up to 20 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the surrounding rural areas.

However, other factors may play into the development of urban heat islands such as redlining, lower investment in infrastructure, urban-renewal projects, and a lack of canopied vegetation. All, or some, of these factors can lead to one neighborhood being significantly warmer than another.

“Our research team will be working with volunteer citizen scientists to map areas in Knoxville where excessive heat may occur,” said Kristina Kintziger, an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health at UT. “They’ll be using specifically-designed heat sensors mounted on their own cars and drive through their neighborhoods in the morning, afternoon and evening on an appointed day in August.”

The data gathered by the citizen scientists will provide more detail that possible with satellite data alone. The local maps will be a tool that may help city officials and community groups identify where they can take action to protect vulnerable neighborhoods from extreme heat risk, now and in the future.

“By working with citizen scientists, this research effort will raise awareness among volunteers and residents about heat risk, incorporate local perspectives to produce heat maps, and engage communities in pursuing equitable solutions,” said Jennifer First, assistant professor with the UT College of Social Work.

Knoxville is one of 14 cities chosen to participate in the 2022 Heat Mapping Campaign, supported by the National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS), NOAA Climate Program Office and CAPA Strategies, LLC.

You can find out more about the project here.

Through its eight departments and 12 centers, the UT Knoxville, College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences enhances the quality of life for all through research, outreach, and practice. Find out more at