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UB Professor Assembles Bike Weather Station

Author: Robert Creenan

Research in climate science is more important now more than ever, as scientists are working to protect the earth from the pitfalls of climate change and the growing problem of urban heat islands. In order to bring attention to the problem and combat heat islands, a local professor has decided to take the battle to the streets, with an ingenious monitoring device that he attaches to his bike.

Nicholas Rajkovich, assistant professor of architectureThe unlikely source for this inventive research is a bike outfitted with 50 lbs. of equipment on it – a weather station that measures fine atmospheric data. The project is the brainchild of Nicholas Rajkovich, currently an assistant professor at the School of Architecture and Planning at the University at Buffalo. The idea came from studies done on measuring urban heat, when Rajkovich was a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan . “I wanted to do the same thing, but in areas that you couldn’t access with automobiles,” said Rajkovich. “I needed to get away from traffic, as that has an effect on temperature readings.” His tests were initially conducted in Cleveland and his findings were published in the January issue of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (co-authored with Larissa Larsen, associate professor of urban and regional planning and natural resources at the University of Michigan).

Bike-weather-Station-Buffalo-NY-2The main use for this bike is to quantify urban heat in cities. The Urban Heat Island effect, which Rajkovich’s research goes into, results in built-up areas that are hotter than surrounding rural areas due to factors such as parking lots and lack of trees. These issues pose great health risks due to the increase of ground-level smog. Densely populated urban areas also have greater electrical demand, mainly from the use air of conditioners (air conditioning was invented in Buffalo), which affects heat volumes. “Heat waves kill more people than any other natural disaster, so understanding which areas are hotter than others is important for urban and regional planning,” Rajkovich said.

By understanding where these heat zones are located, initiatives can be made to create cooling centers or tree-planting sites to curb the heat and alleviate health risks. Cleveland is already using the data derived by Rajkovich to help plan its tree planting efforts. 

The bicycle has its own set of measuring equipment, which includes an on-board computer that logs all the data, a hard drive on board to save the data, a camera, two radiometers that take readings every second, and a GPS device affixed to a 6 ½ ft. aluminum tower on the back of the bike. The equipment weighs around 50 lbs and includes a 6 ½ foot tall aluminum tower to keep the equipment as far from the ground as possible.

UB students are involved with some of the research that Rajkovich is conducting, mainly on some of the climate change planning work in Cleveland. His team does have funding from the Kresge Foundation to develop climate resilience strategies for at-risk urban areas like Cleveland.

Some research similar to Rajkovich’s was conducted in the Netherlands, where researchers took thermal temperatures on a bicycle. “To the best of my knowledge, this is the first weather station completely on a bike to gather so much data for analysis,” Rajkovich said.

Don’t be surprised to see Rajkovich and his weather station bike cruising the streets of Buffalo this summer. After a super mild winter, add a few sprawling parking lots, a lack of trees in some urban areas, and then throw the switch on some air conditioning, and we could have the perfect storm for the roaming weather station studies. Let’s just hope that Buffalo, like Cleveland, uses the results wisely.

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