A team of physics researchers at TCNJ is mapping out ways the local community can cope with the increasing heat

Physics professor Nate Magee and student researchers Sam Ert and Hector Arroyo Quintana prepare to launch a weather balloon from Quimby Prairie.

As temperatures rise and summer heat increases, Professor of Physics Nate Magee A group of his research students used a weather balloon to collect important data to help Trenton residents plan for and respond to the impact of extreme heat.

As part of a Magee-directed undergraduate summer experience project titled “Trenton-Mercer Collaborative Heat Island and Air Quality Project,” students have been studying Trenton’s urban heat island to gather information about temperature and air quality and how the health of local residents has been improved. influenced by the hot summer.

“One of the things we realized is that the temperature in urban environments is significantly warmer, especially on hot summer days,” Magee said. “It can easily be 10 degrees hotter than the surrounding areas, and the air quality is usually worse as well.”

Exposure to extreme heat and poor air quality can lead to heart attacks, shortness of breath, higher hospitalization rates and death rates, among other problems.

Using a high-resolution infrared thermal camera attached to a weather balloon, Magee and his team send out temperature measuring and locating instruments in an insulated package tied to the bottom of the balloon. The equipment then provides a temperature “map” to determine details about the size of the neighborhood and how heat affects the area.

As part of the project, Magee and his team are also installing in-ground air sensors in some Trenton area schools to help provide accurate, real-time information about temperature and air quality in the city, which can be difficult to capture when key National Weather Service data is collected. To Trenton from the airport in the middle of a grassy field.

“The heat island effect is a local phenomenon,” Magee said. “Neighborhoods with lots of trees, grass and parks can be several degrees cooler than those with more concrete, asphalt and roofs on buildings. We hope that urban planners will take these factors into account and emphasize them when there is an opportunity, to plant more trees.” .

The data collected by the balloon will be used as part of a larger project that includes a public dashboard to provide residents with information, data and guidance on how to stay safe and healthy during the increasing summer heat.

The fact that the study results can help community members is especially rewarding for Magee and the students involved.

“It was especially satisfying for me because I got to see my work in the real world and had the opportunity to learn about the community surrounding TCNJ,” the physics student said. Sam Ert ’25“I don’t think I would have had this opportunity if it wasn’t for this project.”

“I hope this project will inform, educate and raise awareness of the dangers of extreme heat,” Magee said. “We know that there is a problem and that people, who sometimes are not even aware of the risks, are affected by it. We hope to empower people to protect themselves and advocate for community development that creates greener neighbourhoods.”

The heat island project is part of a larger interdisciplinary collaboration addressing environmentally focused justice, health, and education issues in Trenton. Faculty and students from the TCNJ College of Education, the Journalism Program, and the Public Health Program have collaborated on these interconnected issues over the past two years. Community partners include ISLES, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the Trenton Health Team, and the Trenton Public School District.

Funding for this project was provided by MUSE, the TCNJ Environmental Sustainability Program Council, and the TCNJ Department of Physics.

Luke Sachs

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