Urban Hotspots

Brief description

In this set of three activities, students will learn how the built environment leads to the urban heat island effect and how Earth observation can be used to monitor this effect and support attempts to reduce it. In the first activity, students explore visual temperature data for a city and use it to identify some of the causes of urban heat islands. The second activity introduces the principles behind the measurement of land surface temperature and applies this to calculating the effect of using different materials in cities. In the final activity, students use the Climate from Space web application and downloaded data to compare temperatures and trends in an urban and rural environment.

Subject Geography, Science, Physics, Earth Science

Learning Objectives
  • Describe the urban heat island effect and list some of its consequences
  • Identify aspects of the built environment that enhance and reduce the urban heat island effect
  • Relate the behaviour of these aspects to the physics of heat transfer
  • Carry out calculations to show how measurements of thermal radiation can be converted to temperature values
  • Relate emissivity values of a range of materials used in cities to brightness temperatures
  • Analyse and present data from a large data set using a spreadsheet
  • Create a report to summarise and explain conclusions drawn from analysed data
Age range
14 – 16 years old
approximately 45 minutes per activity
Resource available in:
Activity 1: Urban Hotspots 
In this activity, pupils are introduced to the urban heat island effect. They will consider the potential impact in a warming world that is becoming increasingly urbanised. Students explore a heat map of a city and apply what they have learnt to create a hypothetical heat map of a local urban environment. Some or all of this activity could be used as a homework excercise. 
  • Information sheet 1 (2 pages, second page optional)
  • Student worksheet 1
  • Internet access
  • Outline maps of a local urban area (optional)
  • Image processing software or coloured pencils
  • Large sheets of paper (optional)
  • Climate from Space web application: Urban Hotspots story (optional)
Activity 2: Radiation and Temperature 
In this activity, students will learn how sensing the intensity of thermal radiation can be used to determine land surface temperatures by considering the characteristics of a black body. Students are introduced to the relevant equations and use a spreadsheet to carry out calculations using them. 
Activity 3: Town and Country 
In this activity, pupils will use the Climate from Space web application to identfy the land cover types associated with a pair of contrasting locations and analyse downloaded temperature data. They consolidate their learning from the topic by producing a report relating the patterns they have found to inform about the radiative behaviour of different surfaces and, perhaps, other climate variabels. 

Did you know?

The urban heat island effect is a phenomenon that leads to temperatures in cities often being higher than those in surrounding rural areas. This effect is amplified during heatwaves, as the materials used to create the built environment have high heat capacities and this limits the amount of cooling that takes place each night. Growing urban populations and the effects of climate change mean that more and more people will be affected by this over the coming decades. 

Helping to manage water

Discover how satellites can help collecting information on water resources at over large areas.

What are the differences

In this short video, Dr Natalie Douglas, a climate scientist, explains the difference between weather, climate variability and climate change. Natalie is a Teaching and Research Fellow at the University of Surrey and is collaborating...

Sentinel-3 for Oceans

Discover how Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission is helping scientists to understand the overall health of our planet.

Images from Space

Learn how satellites can help us monitoring our planet. Video by ESERO Germany (in English).

The spectral resolution

Earth observation satellites are guardians of our planet. Thanks to remote sensing technology and daily data collection, researchers are able to better monitor our planet’s oceans and rising sea levels from space. ESA senior advisor...