Case Study

Air Quality

Georgia Tech: Understanding Urban Heat Islands at the Site Scale


Campus-based sensors capture real-time data for different micro-climate conditions. Credit: Georgia Tech

By studying micro-climates on the Georgia Tech campus, scientists have demonstrated that heat island reduction measures can be effectively planned and implemented at the site level.

Atlanta, Georgia

humid subtropical


Metro: 51% White, 31% Black; 11% Latino; 4.5% Asian

City: 36% White; 54% Black; 5% Latino; 3% Asian

Below Poverty Line: 24% Individuals

City-wide or area-wide measures aren’t necessary.

Because of global and local scale climate change, temperatures in the Atlanta region have been rising more rapidly than in previous decades — making Atlanta the third most rapidly warming metropolitan region in the country.

Increases of extreme heat days and higher temperatures generally throughout the year renders the Georgia Tech campus — indeed all of Atlanta — vulnerable to a growing range of health, outdoor comfort, and infrastructure-related concerns.

In response to these trends, the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Urban Climate Lab has established a dense network of temperature and relative humidity sensors throughout the campus to identify the location of hot spots, measure the impact of ongoing development on micro-climatic conditions, and assess how the use of vegetation and cool materials around campus can moderate warming trends.

“The effects of urban heat island effect are most apparent in particular microclimates, such as those with very low vegetation. You may not need to look at entire cities as case studies to provide solid evidence that vegetation can be a significant heat mitigation strategy.” Evan Mallen, PhD Student at Georgia Tech – Urban Climate Lab

  • 24 HOBO sensors across campus
  • Sites represent many micro-climatic conditions
  • Designed as a pilot for more extensive network across Atlanta metro region
  • Several sensors located in areas set to transition from impervious surfaces to green space — enabling study of how these changes might affect climate


  • Urban Climate Lab, Georgia Tech University
Lessons Learned
  • Urban Heat Island effect, and mitigation strategies, are most evident at microclimate scale;
  • Vegetation, particularly urban canopy, is an effective UHI mitigation strategy;
  • Smart sensor networks indicate where interventions are most needed, and where they can be most effective.
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