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New York City & the Urban Heat Island Effect

A week ago, the class did a lab which required us to go outside and record the temperatures of various surfaces on the ground in Columbus Park, Brooklyn. The weather conditions were overcast clouds, but the actual temperature was in the mid 60s, making for a nice, chilly day. While we were recording the temperatures, we noticed just how a few bits of shade can drastically alter the temperature of a single surface. New York City’s weather does tend to be… “special” around this time of year, so I decided to dig a bit deeper and study how the city itself stores heat, and compare it to how an island nation, notably the Dominican Republic, stores heat. Winter is on its way, and it would be a good idea to learn about storing heat so I don’t freeze over the next few months.

We covered 4 surfaces during the lab. Those 4 surfaces were Pavement, Cement, Dirt, and Grass. We took the temperature of the surface 6 times, 3 for when it was in sunlight, and another 3 for when the clouds were shaded the surface. Then, we added the 3 temperatures together for each situation (the 3 sunlight ones get added together), and calculated the average of all 3 temperatures. As expected, the hottest surface was when the sunlight was hitting the cement, while the coolest was the dirt in the shade. It’s pretty obvious why this is the case: the cement is better at retaining heat than the dirt is. Think of it as the greenhouse effect. As sunlight rays hit the earth, greenhouse gases trap the sun’s heat and heats up the planet. The same process is applied here, to both the pavement and cement. Retain the heat from the sun, and you’ll stay warm.

While NYC goes through all 4 seasons, the island nation of the Dominican Republic (and any surrounding countries) knows only one thing – scorching heat, and rainfall. Since it’s located in the Caribbean, and thus is nearer to the equator, it tends to only have 2 seasons – The Wet Season, which would be during the months of May to November or , summer and autumn, and the Dry Season, running from December to April, or winter and spring. If the names weren’t obvious enough, it’s to designate when rain is more likely to occur, but also makes the island nation much more susceptible to natural disasters, such as hurricanes, floods, landslides, heat waves, tropical storms, and tsunamis

Just like NYC, a lot of cities in the DR have similar land cover types, like pavement, cement, and anything else you would expect. However, since it’s closer to the equator, and as stated earlier, it tends to have a more extreme version of the greenhouse effect as a result – the land cover types retain way more heat than in NYC. The average temperature, according to WeatherSpark.com, varies from 68°F to 89°F and is rarely below 65°F or above 92°F. If you’re traveling to enjoy the nicer weather on the island nation, it’s best to go during late November to early April, which is precisely the Dry Season, according to Worldbank.org. Think of it as the  “inverse” of NYC’s seasons – as Winter rolls around the city, the DR heats up and becomes perfect weather to head outside. As Spring comes in and starts warming up NYC, the DR starts to experience more rainfall, leading to lower temperatures. Just make sure to pack a few shorts before you head on the plane.

While not unique in the way the land cover types vary, it’s more notable in how the closer you are to the equator, the more the land stores excess heat. The DR has practically the same land types, but, as you can expect, way more dirt and grass because of all the farmland we use. The temperature didn’t really change much during our experiment last week, but over the next week, it got warmer. If we did the experiment today, we’d get much higher numbers. You can boil it down to “similar, but different”, in a way. Both share the same land types, but have wildly different numbers. You can also use it to highlight the relationship between climate change, and climate variability. It’s another reason why we should be aware of climate change – we could be heading for a warmer earth in the future.





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