Environmental Challenges

Who Experiences the Hottest Heat?

September 23, 2022

With funding from the Initiative in 2021, Aishwarya Javali, Dr. Nicholas Skaff, and Associate Scientist Megan Latshaw set out to understand who experiences the highest land surface temperatures in two counties in the Atlanta Metropolitan area. Atlanta is the most segregated city in the South and the second-most segregated in the country. With a population that is 54% black and 38% white, it has a citywide diversity index of 56.8%. Its neighborhood diversity index, however, is just 30.7%, reflecting historically redlined neighborhoods.  

First, the team collected and mapped racial distribution, median household income, and educational attainment data from the US Census and the American Community Survey. They then used NASA’s high resolution ECOSTRESS satellite data and the CDC’s Environmental Public Health Tracking Network to create a map of localized heat findings. Finally, they looked for an association between heat trends and sociodemographic characteristics of the community.  

The researchers found:  

  • While there was a significant association between land surface temperature and racial distribution, the strength of the association was small. Asian and Hispanic neighborhoods were more likely to see hotter temperatures. 
  • A significant association between land surface temperatures and median household income with decreases of 1.2°C during the day and 0.25°C during the night per $100,000 increase in income. 
  • A significant increase in land surface temperature of 0.04°C for each percent of the population with less than High School level education. 

The research can be used as a reproducible model in other cities for which ECOSTRESS data is available and can help prepare communities, first responders, and health workers for extreme heat exposure. To learn more about the project, see Ms. Javali’s ScM Research Thesis 

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