New NASA Satellite launch date set to aid in Urban Heat Island Detection


By: Blaze Wilson — November 20, 2013                               Updated: 8:48pm

With the announcement that NASA will be launching a new satellite in April 2020, several news sources are buzzing about the mission and how it can potentially benefit the public. I recently had the opportunity of sitting down with Riley Hale, Jaquantas Printup, Nick Bagley, and Castle Williams the co-creators of this satellite in hopes of getting more information on the upcoming launch. The HORUS Satellite, which stands for Heat island, Ozone and Radiation measurements for Urban Systems, will contain various instruments to aid in determining areas that are more at risk for severe heat occurrences. Using high spatial resolution, the HORUS satellite will be able to determine varying temperature differences between city blocks within an urban area. In order to determine temperatures, a combination of satellite and surface observations will be inputted into an algorithm to determine specific regions within the city most at risk for heat related illnesses. After the algorithm targets an area in the city, “a heat illness warning will be activated cautioning individuals living in these regions of the city to take extra precautions when outside” mentioned societal impacts researcher Castle Williams. Upon further investigation of the instruments on board of the HORUS, engineering specialist Nick Bagley was able to walk me through some of the specifics. “The most important instruments are those that allow us to detect surface temperatures, so the longwave and shortwave infrared are the greatest assets to our satellite.” With the steady increase in populations moving to cities for employment opportunities, pollution and other greenhouse gases are on the rise increasing the temperatures in cityscapes.

Photo Courtesy: Nichol, J. E., & To, P. H. (2012). Temporal characteristics of thermal satellite images for urban heat stress and heat island mapping. ISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing74, 153-162.

Urban heat islands are not solely caused by the influx of individuals, but also the habits that ensue from the migration of people into urban landscapes. Today more than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and are in need of different strategies to combat the increasing temperatures due to urban heat island effects. You may be wondering what exactly is an urban heat island? Riley Hale, an urban climatology researcher, defines it as “the rise in temperature of any region consisting of synthetic and manufactured materials, resulting in a temperature difference between urban and rural areas.” Although the new satellite can effectively measure the effects of urban heat islands, it is ultimately up to the public to aid in mitigating these effects. Using green roofs, planting trees, and even painting the roofs of buildings white can aid in the lowering of urban temperatures. “Why are roofs black? It is just something that happens during the construction of a building. If we were to paint the roofs white, the albedo (radiation reflectance) could result in an air temperature decrease of up to 4°C” noted environmental mitigation strategist Jaquantas Printup. A simple construction modification could aid in the lessening of temperatures felt in urban areas.

A quick breakdown of the satellite reveals it has five different instruments on board, all of which aid in the detection of urban heat islands. Following in the footsteps of the ASTER satellite, the researchers hope to drastically improve the temporal resolution and the transmission of large amounts of data. “Allowing the satellite to cross cities at least twice a day, will allow us to better understand and document the effects of urban heat islands” engineer Nick Bagley stated. The researchers as a whole hope the announcement of this new mission will bring light to the importance of urban heat island effects felt all across the globe.

For more information regarding the HORUS satellite mission, please visit