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Investigating the Campus Urban Heat Island: An Undergraduate Research Case Study

Authors: Dan Bedford*, Weber State University
Topics: Climatology and Meteorology, Geography Education, Land Use
Keywords: urban heat island; undergraduate research
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper outlines a research project carried out by undergraduate students in an upper division weather and climate class, focusing on urban heat islands. The presentation describes the research itself, as well as the resulting undergraduate learning experience.

The project examined xeriscaping efforts by Weber State University, a medium sized, open enrollment, primarily undergraduate institution located in Ogden, Utah. The university is a state leader in moving towards carbon neutrality and has recently embraced water conservation, especially via xeriscaping.

However, the specific mode of xeriscaping adopted brought the prospect of significant increases to the campus urban heat island. Students in GEOG 3050 Weather and Climate investigated the warming effect of this surface compared with grass, road, and river rocks. Students derived regression equations relating surface temperature to solar radiation, finding that xeriscaped surfaces warmed up far more than any other surface for equal inputs of solar radiation. Students briefed facilities staff on the results, and developed a poster which they presented at two local conferences and the AAG national meeting in 2018. In light of these results, the university has moved away from this particular mode of xeriscaping.

The experience of participating in this undergraduate research project therefore includes not only significant student learning through engaging with the science, but also includes, on a small scale, the empowering experience of conducting research, bringing the findings to the attention of decision makers, and seeing real results in terms of campus policy.

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