Apply now to join our next cohort of Community Science Fellows and Community Leads!

Analyze Urban Heat: Relating it to Community Impacts, Community Resources, and Tree Canopy Cover

Montgomery County, Maryland

Featured image for the project, Analyze Urban Heat: Relating it to Community Impacts, Community Resources, and Tree Canopy Cover

A woman walks down a sunny, urban sidewalk in Montgomery County, Maryland on a hot day while several people are seated in a small area of shade. Credit: Montgomery County, MD Department of Environmental Protection.

As more areas become urbanized  and climate change creates new weather extremes, Montgomery County, Maryland is concerned about the impacts of urban heat island on the county. We are interested in understanding how urban heat may disproportionately impact communities in Montgomery County, how that relates to tree canopy cover, and needs and potential locations for public cooling centers. We are interested in analyzing intersections in data  describing urban and community heat, tree canopy, demographics, and cooling center locations. We also will want to build a GIS tool or Geodatabase that presents this data well as results of any analyses. This tool will be used by Montgomery County and local advocacy groups to identify areas of high vulnerability and help prioritize tree planting areas, as well as locations for cooling centers; this tool may also be useful to residents in helping them understand how they can escape the heat.


About the Community

Montgomery County, Maryland includes many small cities and suburban areas and is part of the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. The county also includes an agricultural reserve and extensive park system. The county is the most diverse jurisdiction in the State. However, the county is also marked by vast wealth disparities between the wealthiest residents and other communities with high poverty. The county has tremendous scientific resources in large part due to federal facilities located in the county (such as FDA, NIST, NOAA, and NIH) and is largely a progressive jurisdiction; however, not all residents have a seat at the table. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments predicts significant population, household, and employment growth within the county until at least 2045, so it is pertinent to understand how urban heat is impacting and will impact the county.

We understand that urban heat may be disproportionately impacting some communities in Montgomery County in part due to a lack of tree canopy cover.  Simultaneously, mature canopy trees and forests are also being lost in developing areas, while reforestation mostly often occurs along stream valleys or within conservation areas. These two ongoing changes lead to large impervious areas with few and unprotected trees, causing heat island pockets throughout the county. Much of our understanding about these intersections is anecdotal, so through this project, we would like to use data to quantify how and where urban heat is impacting Montgomery County.


About the Project

We would like to build a tool that helps Montgomery County to understand urban heat, locations of all heat islands, how heat may disproportionately impact some communities, and how heat relates to tree canopy cover and impervious surfaces. This tool will be used by county employees, and potentially additional government agencies such as larger State organizations, local municipalities, and local advocacy groups. The tool should: identify areas of the county with greater vulnerability to urban heat; relate data to the county’s Climate Action Plan to identify vulnerable communities and later link these impacts to health risks; and identify where diminished tree canopy could be exacerbating urban heat issues. These results will help us to prioritize tree planting, identify locations for future cooling centers (such as outdoor spray areas, public water fountains, shaded zones, public buildings, etc.), develop stronger individual and group tree protection measures on both private and public lands, and implement other heat-management strategies and resources. The tool may also be useful to county residents, particularly those impacted by urban heat.  We also expect for the tool to align with other county urban heat and land use initiatives.

We anticipate that the following four prongs of data will be used to construct the tool and conduct analyses: 1) urban heat data, 2) tree canopy data, 3) demographics data (such as locations of disadvantaged or lower income communities, vulnerable populations, race and ethnicity, and health data), and 4) locations of cooling centers, such as public buildings like libraries and recreation centers. Montgomery County has access to some data relating to all four of these prongs, but we need the assistance of one or more technical expert(s) in understanding the relevance and usability of our data for this project, generating additional data needed for this project, analyzing the data, and building a GIS tool and/or Geodatabase presenting the results of the analysis with metadata. In the production of this tool, we will need to collaborate with GIS-specialized employees in the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and/or Park and Planning (M-NCPPC) so it will fit within current county systems, and the methods of data collection and analysis should be clearly outlined so it could be replicated in the future by county employees.

Montgomery County has been selected for a 2022  NOAA heat mapping grant. This project aims to determine urban heat islands through temperature and humidity measurements. The data will be collected through volunteer effort under NOAA guidance in August 2022. Once this data has been collected, we would like assistance in analyzing it independently and understanding the data in terms of other urban heat data (including local maps, local surface temperature readings, and national datasets). Most importantly, the technical expert should assist with relating the urban heat data to the other three prongs of data. Additionally, we have access to data on the location of tree cover for multiple years, and will have access to NAIP 4 band lidar imagery investigating tree cover. However, we would like the advice of a technical expert in deciding if it is useful or feasible to pursue a more granular tree canopy data set that includes information such as tree health or forest vs non-forest tree canopy. Montgomery County should be able to provide the locations of cooling centers within the county and demographics data.

The County is also receiving technical assistance through the Urban Sustainability Directors Network’s Nature-Based Climate Initiatives (formerly the Urban Drawdown Initiative), utilizing its Managing Urban Landscapes for Climate Action Strategy Development Guide to establish a framework that evaluates the County’s existing programs, plans, and policies to identify gaps in our current capacity and create a comprehensive roadmap for the Climate Action Plan on Natural Climate Solutions.  This, in turn, will help the County evaluate existing prioritization and measurement tools, such as the Trust for Public Land’s Carbon Management Tool for Urban Decision Lands, and inform development of a tailored tool that meets the County’s specific needs.  The project kicked off during Spring 2022 and is scheduled to be completed in Fall 2022.  Ideally, this initiative should dovetail with the work being conducted by the Thriving Earth Exchange project.

Timeline and Milestones

To understand our timeline and milestones, we would like to meet with a technical expert to identify what granular data collection is useful and feasible. We recognize that the project should be completed within 6-18 months.

Project Team

Community Leads

Adriana Hochberg headshot

Adriana Hochberg serves as the Climate Change Officer for Montgomery County, Maryland and as Acting Director for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). She leads Montgomery County’s efforts to combat climate change while building a healthy, equitable, and resilient county. Ms. Hochberg coordinated the development of the Climate Action Plan, a strategic roadmap for the County to cut community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2027 and reach zero emissions by 2035.

Marianne Souders headshot

Marianne Souders serves as the Acting Director for the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (OEMHS) where she sets the strategic direction for the office and oversees the office’s budget and grant projects. She worked on the Climate Adaptation and Carbon Sequestration workgroups during the initial phase of the climate action plan. She is the Treasurer of the Maryland Emergency Management Association. Marianne grew up in Maryland and served for over 15 years in Anne Arundel County as an Emergency Medical Technician-Paramedic Lieutenant and 911 Shift Supervisor. Marianne is a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) and has a Bachelor’s in Emergency Health Services from the University of Maryland and a Master’s in Emergency Management from Millersville University.

Tina Laboy headshot

Tina Laboy (she/her) serves as the Acting Planning Division Chief in the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (OEMHS) where she leads several emergency preparedness projects to promote community resilience. Tina  is a member of the County’s Climate Leadership Team, focusing on climate adaptation and climate resilience. Tina is a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM). She holds a Bachelor’s in Meteorology and a Master’s in Emergency Management from Millersville University. She also holds a Master’s in Law and Policy of Crisis Management and Homeland Security from the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.

Michael Boldosser headshot

Michael Boldosser is a veteran of the US Air Force, with over 21 years of active duty service, half of which was dedicated to piloting a flying gas station for midair refueling.  He has over 15 years of emergency management experience at the county level, the last five at the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. Michael has a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry, a Master’s in Aeronautical Science and is a Certified Emergency Manager.

Mara Parker headshot

Mara Parker (she/her) works as a grants coordinator in the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (OEMHS) in Montgomery County. She is a member of the County’s Climate Leadership Team, where she worked with the Climate Adaptation and Carbon Sequestration workgroups. Before coming to OEMHS she worked for over ten years as a senior legislative aide at the Montgomery County Council. Mara grew up in Alaska and Washington state, where she studied Geography at the University of Washington. In her free time she enjoys languages, hiking, kayaking and travel.


Community Science Fellow

Sydney Shelton (she/her) is a first year PhD student in geology at the University of Maryland. Sydney completed a B.S. in Environmental Science and Sustainability Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where her senior thesis focused on how researchers can overcome academic hurdles and participate in community science. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, biking, and traveling to any location with snow.

Scientist Wanted

We are open to working with multiple technical experts depending on the expertise that is available. The technical expert(s) should be able to fill the following four roles:


1) Help us analyze urban heat data from our NOAA heat mapping grant. This may involve relating data from past initiatives and publicly available datasets to this new data.

2) Help us decide if the currently available tree canopy data is granular enough, or if we would like to pursue building a more detailed dataset. If we would like to acquire more data, the technical expert should then take the lead.

3) Conduct an analysis to help us identify heat island hotspots, identify heat-vulnerable communities and regions in the county (and how that relates to community demographics), and understand the relationship between urban heat and tree canopy cover. This should include accuracy metric(s) to prescribe a confidence level for the data.

4) Build a GIS tool and/or Geodatabase that includes the four prongs of data and the results of the analysis with metadata. This should be a tool that has relative ease of access and relates to the existing Montgomery County infrastructure.

5) Provide documentation on how the analysis was completed, the key results of the analysis, and directions on how the analysis, database, and tools could be updated over time.  Recommendations should also include ways in which this tool could be integrated with the work being conducted in partnership with USDN’s Nature-Based Climate Initiatives.


Desired Skills and Qualifications (bulleted list):

  • Physical or atmospheric science background and a familiarity with data behind urban heat and tree canopy
  • Expertise in analyzing GIS data and developing geodatabases, and the ability to use various model-builder tools that can be built into geodatabase analysis. The analysis may look at simple overlays, but may need to do analyses within GIS environment that can generate additional GIS georeferenced data
  • We may also want to work with a technical expert with some social science background as well, since the tool is aimed at social benefits, which may require different analyses. This may mean including two technical experts.
  • We are willing to work with students or those with a variety of professional qualifications if they have relevant experience
  • Preference to local technical experts, but we’re okay with remote engagement
  • Experience with citizen science (we will be collaborating with citizens in data collection)
  • Strong collaboration skills
  • A good sense of humor
  • Willingness to work with county staff to promote project longevity; for example, generating products so GIS staff can see what was done and continue it.



Thriving Earth Exchange asks all scientific partners to work with the community to help define a project with concrete local impact to which they can contribute as pro-bono volunteers and collaborators. This work can also position the scientists and communities to seek additional funding, together, for the next stage.

Interested in volunteering as a scientist? Apply now!