Islands in the Sun

Most urban areas are warming at twice the rate of the planet as a whole, thanks to a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect. Heat waves are expected to become increasingly frequent as climate changes.

Islands in the Sun seeks to better understand the mechanisms behind 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 research team is:

  1. quantifying factors that contribute to urban heat islands in the world’s 100 largest metropolitan areas;
  2. developing a model to assess heat-island-mitigating landscape design strategies; and
  3. evaluating the effectiveness of different engineering and landscape design solutions in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

Year 1 Progress Report (January 2012)


In 2011-12, the research team compiled the list of 100 cities with which they’re working, reviewed urban climatology models, and placed nearly 200 heat sensors around the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Coverage in the Star Tribune and on Minnesota Public Radio led to inquiries from more than 700 citizens interested in volunteering their land for heat sensor placement. Team members also worked with collaborators in the United Kingdom and Germany. They hope to expand their international partner network in 2012-13.

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