University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
Islands in the Sun

Examining Urban Heat Islands

September 6, 2011Jake GrafensteinGeneral, Heat islandComments Off on Examining Urban Heat Islands

The Islands in the Sun project is sponsored by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resources and is led by Professors Peter Snyder and Tracy Twine. We are excited about the opportunity to highlight some of the things we are doing as part of the project on this blog. Let’s jump right in and talk about what is an urban heat island and what we are doing on this project.


Urban heat islands are regions of strong warming that are localized around the core downtown region of a city with progressively lower temperatures as one travels away from the central region of warming – hence the name “heat island”.


Urban heat islands exist because of large differences in land use, building materials, and vegetation between cities and their rural surroundings. This difference can be in excess of 1-10°F during the daytime and as much as 12-20°F at night. In addition, the localized warming has the potential to alter patterns of precipitation in metropolitan regions and the surrounding countryside and perhaps even influence the frequency and severity of severe weather.


The goal of this project is to better understand the mechanisms contributing to urban heat islands with a goal of finding ways to lessen their effects through landscape design. Given that more than half the global population lives in cities, there is urgent need to understand and mitigate urban heat island effects, especially during heat wave events when the risk of heat-related illness and mortality can increase dramatically.

The data that is collected in and around the Twin Cities Metro Area will be used to comprehensively map and understand the annual, seasonal, and daily behavior of our urban heat island. The data will also be used in conjunction with numerical models to explore how changes to the urban landscape could contribute to mitigating the deleterious effects of urban warming.  Additionally, we will be evaluating the effectiveness of different engineering and building design practices that can reduce energy consumption and reduce urban warming.

Our ability to monitor air temperature across the Twin Cities Metro Area at over one hundred locations depends on volunteers like you. If you think you might be interested in helping us, stay tuned to a later blog post for information.

Please let us know what you think about our project and let us know if we can answer any of your questions on the project or on urban heat islands in general.

Stay cool!

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Funding for the Islands in the Sun project has been provided by:

The Islands in the Sun project is currently looking for volunteers to house sensor on their property. Visit the Sensors Network page for more details.

For questions about the Islands in the Sun project, please email Peter Snyder.