Wicked Hot Boston

In the summer of 2019, the Museum of Science, Boston, (MOS) studied the impacts of extreme heat and the urban heat island effect through community-based participatory science, otherwise known as citizen science. Nicknamed “Wicked Hot Boston,” the summer’s focus was on connecting community science to previously developed deliberation forum materials on extreme heat. On September 24, 2019 the Wicked Hot Boston forum engaged close to 100 participants in deliberations on extreme heat and the presentation of the citizen science collected data from urban heat island mapping in Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline, MA.

Click here for the full summary of study activities

Urban Heat Island Mapping

On July 29th and 30th of 2019, MOS’s heat mapping campaign gathered 50 citizen scientists made up of a diverse group of participants from NGOs, city planners, university students, and professionals. Citizen science teams were composed of at least one driver and one navigator, who drove together during hour-long mapping periods of 6am, 3pm and 7pm. The 3-D printed car mount and heat-sensing equipment allowed citizen scientists to attach a sensor device to their car and record the ambient air temperature and geospatial data of the surrounding areas.

This method was developed by CAPA Strategies, Portland State University, and the Science Museum of Virginia. MOS worked with city planners in Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline to apply these methods by dividing the three cities into ten mapping routes, as well as recruiting community-based participatory scientists from all areas.

By measuring ambient air temperature, the air we breathe and feel, city planners can more accurately assess the potential health impacts of extreme heat. These data will provide the cities with high resolution temperature data throughout the entire day, which can then be layered with other factors such as tree canopy, surface temperature, income level, elderly population, or emergency room visits. By comparing heat maps with maps of various population demographics city planners and researchers can learn which groups are most affected by urban heat.

This map shows the air temperature traverse data taken from the sensors. East Boston's traverse was completed on 7/30/19 and the other 9 traverses were completed on 7/29/19.

Results and Data

Click here to download the full data set as an ArcGIS layer package: https://www.dropbox.com/s/agcqod911532g7w/mos_wickedhot.lpk?dl=0 

CAPA Final Report: https://osf.io/kbsa4/download 

Click picture to open interactive map. Map shows modeled ambient air temperature at 3pm in the Boston area. Maps created by researchers at the Museum of Science, Boston and the Helmuth Lab at Northeastern University. Traverse Points and Landsat Model Raster Data by CAPA Strategies.

Click picture to open interactive map. Map shows modeled heat index (heat and humidity) at 3pm in the Boston area. Maps created by researchers at the Museum of Science, Boston and the Helmuth Lab at Northeastern University. Traverse Points and Landsat Model Raster Data by CAPA Strategies.


Click picture to open interactive map. Map shows warming between 6 am and 3 pm (3pm minus 6pm change in degress Fahrenheit) in the Boston area. Maps created by researchers at the Museum of Science, Boston and the Helmuth Lab at Northeastern University. Traverse Points and Landsat Model Raster Data by CAPA Strategies.




Throughout the entire summer, we used citizen science platform called ISeeChange, where participants documented and learned more about the changing environment around them. Posts on ISeeChange’s app or website typically included pictures and descriptions of weather and climate, and anyone anywhere in the world could post to ISeeChange about changes in their communities. By working with the creators of ISeeChange, we were able to have an extreme heat investigation for the greater Boston metro area. Anyone within this area could post their observations to this investigation, while being able to interact with other citizen scientists in the area. Posts included highlighting areas that were hotter in the city, areas that had trees or water features to cool down, or how community members were dealing with the heat. Close to 110 sighting were posting to our investigation about extreme heat. Read the deep dive story ISeeChange wrote about this project here

ISeeChange is a global community that posts about what participants notice changing in the environment using the platform and mobile tools. Each post is synced with weather and climate data and broadcast to the community to investigate bigger picture climate trends. Over time, community members can track how climate is changing, season to season, year to year, and understand the impacts on daily life. Sign up for ISeeChange today at https://www.iseechange.org/.

We connected the ISeeChange observations to our Wicked Hot Boston heat mapping project and Forum event through our project portal in SciStarter. SciStarter is a global website that connects people to citizen science projects, citizen scientists, and resources. By signing up through SciStarter and making contributions to local citizen science projects connected to climate hazards such as extreme precipitation, sea level rise, drought, and in the case of Wicked Hot Boston, extreme heat, citizen scientists can track their observations, connect to other local and national projects, and receive updates about upcoming related project events.


More Information about Extreme Heat

The average summer temperature in Boston from 1981 to 2010 was 69 degrees F, by 2050 it may be as high as 76 F and by 2100, as high as 84 F. This increased heat creates deadly environments for humans and animals, as well as causing infrastructure such as power grids, roadways, and waterlines to fail. Extreme heat is the cause for the most weather-related deaths, more than hurricanes, tornadoes, and flooding.

Stay safe and beat the heat with these heat safety tips from Boston and Cambridge.

Citizen Science, Civics, and Resilient Communities (CSCRC)

Wicked Hot Boston is the first phase of a larger project. This phase will be evaluated and revised in order to create the format and citizen science materials for the other climate hazards: extreme precipitation, sea level rise, and drought. In partnership with SciStarter, Arizona State University, Northeastern University, and the National Informal Science Education Network, MOS is working on a project to engage public participants in citizen science and resilience planning on climate hazards through a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) funded project called Citizen Science, Civics, and Resilient Communities (CSCRC). 

The Museum of Science, Boston and partners are pleased to announce that 22 sites across the United States have been accepted to receive a $2,000 stipend to implement the NOAA funded Citizen Science, Civics, and Resilient Communities (CSCRC) project between March and September 2021.  We're very excited that these CSCRC project partners will facilitate these conversations in their communities, increasing resilience to extreme weather and environmental hazards through citizen-created data, local knowledge, and community values. Learn more here. 

This resource was prepared by support of award NA18SEC0080008 from the Environmental Literacy Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of NOAA or the U.S. Department of Commerce.