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LCB Research: ECOSTRESS Urban Heat Hazards 

This project uses NASA's experimental ECOSTRESS mission to characterize urban heat hazard dynamics in Las Vegas. More specifically, we'll be examining how vegetation, irrigation, and urban geography influence heat dynamics with a goal of understanding their implications for human health and environmental justice.  


The project will focus on the fast-growing Las Vegas metropolitan region in Nevada. Located in a dry and hot desert, Las Vegas is reported as the fastest warming cities in the US and the annual temperature has increased by 5.9° F since 1970 (Climate Central, 2019). Fast urban expansion considerably changes the local landscapes and alters flora and fauna.  Las Vegas currently supports over 2.3 million people, projected for more than 4 million in 2055. This expansion faces increasingly severe water shortages intensified by sustained regional drought. These shortages have led to lawn removal incentives, rapid changes in irrigation patterns of urban landscapes and dieoffs of many planted trees not well suited to desert conditions (Rothberg, 2021). Such measures may have unintended consequences on the thermal environment by reducing ground shading and evaporative cooling. The synergy of regional heat and drought impact over the water-unsustainable region imposes a huge health challenge there. Dozens to hundreds of people died (i.e., 123 in 2017, 130 in 2018, 124 in 2020) and more are hospitalized each year in Las Vegas due to excessive heat exposure (Bandala et al., 2019).

Collaborators at the University of Alabama-Huntsville (UAH) will be producing fully resolved diurnal urban profiles of land surface temperature, air temperature, humidity, and other variables using NASA ECOSTRESS thermal imaging instrument flown on the International Space Station.

We will be collaborating UAH and Florida state University to better understand how factors such as urban form, vegetation, irrigation status, and drought influence heat hazard dynamics and what the consequences are for human health. And because health hazards are not evenly distributed across different neighborhoods, these's a major environmental (in)justice aspect to this work. We will be working with local community partners to make sure we are asking the right questions and providing useful information for the people of Las Vegas.


People Albright, TBD

Key collaborators: Dr. Leiqiu Hu, Dr. Huaming Zhang (University of Alabama in Huntsville), Dr. Chris Uejio (Florida State University) 


Relevant Publications: pending


The ECOSTRESS instrument on Japanese Experiment Module on International Space Station. Image source; NASA

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NASA’s ECOSTRESS image of Las Vegas on June 10 2022. The hottest surfaces were the dark-colored streets (red grid, center) at more than 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius). Other urban surfaces were as much as 23 F (13 C) cooler.Image Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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