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Columbia, Richland County to take part in national heat study

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The city of Columbia and Richland County will participate in a national study aimed at understanding and reducing heat-related health risks.

The urban head island mapping initiative will provide localized detail which can be used to identify areas to improve air and water quality, enhance livability and protect neighborhoods from extreme heat risk.

Grant funding from the National Integrated Heat Information System, in partnership with Climate Adaptation Planning and Analytics, will support equipment, organization and data processing of the initiative. The mapping project is expected to cover 160 square miles of urban and urbanizing areas in Columbia and Richland County, according to a news release from the city.

Mapping campaigns are taking place throughout the country this summer in urban head islands, which can be up to 20 degrees hotter than nearby neighborhoods, according to the release. The islands are places where buildings, pavement and other urban environmental factors amplify high temperatures compared to nearby vegetated areas.

As part of the effort, stationary temperature and humidity sensors will be installed to monitor summer heat. Volunteers are also needed to mount sensors on their car and drive pre-planned routes in the morning, afternoon and evening on an appointed day. The specifically designed sensors will record location, temperature and humidity.

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When the initiative is complete, a publicly available report and digital mapping data will show regional variations in temperature and humidity.

Other efforts are taking place in Colorado, Nevada, Florida, Ohio, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Maryland, Nebraska, Washington and Philadelphia. The NIHHIS is also working with local groups on international campaigns in Sierra Leone and Rio de Janeiro.

Extreme heat is the greatest weather-related cause of death in the U.S., according to the release, killing more than 600 people a year. Heat risks are exacerbated by health concerns including diabetes, heart disease and obesity, and the young and the elderly face greater threats.

The local application was submitted by the City of Columbia Tree and Appearance Commission with financial and in-kind support from the University of South Carolina Department of Geography, Benedict College Department of Biology, Chemistry, and Environmental Health, Columbia Green, the City of Columbia Planning and Development Services Department and the Public Works Department, the Richland County Conservation Commission, and the Richland County Department of Community Planning and Development.

Other organizations including the Charleston Resilience Network, the Gills Creek Watershed Association, the Medical University of South Carolina, the S.C. Wildlife Federation, the S.C. Office of Resilience and Sustain SC provided letters of support and expressed interest in using the results to inform future work.

Reach Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.

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