Interview with Dr. Lu Liang

July 2022

Assistant Professor, University of North Texas, Department of Geography and the Environment

As record-breaking heat waves impact communities worldwide and the team installs sensors throughout the District to capture meteorological data, some of it pertaining to thermal comfort and heat, it’s exciting that we managed to schedule some time to talk to Dr. Lu Liang. She is a geospatial scientist and assistant professor at the University of North Texas’ (UNT) Department of Geography and the Environment, she uses many techniques, among them, citizen scientists to study the possible link between air pollution and heat in urban areas.

Interviewer: Tell me about the broader goal of your research, relating to the National Science Foundation (NSF) grant you received with your colleague, Dr. Alex Ponette-Gonzalez (who will be featured in part two of our August newsletter).

Dr. Liang: Urban pollution island is a new term, but its similar to urban heat island. Basically, we know that its typically hotter in urban areas more than suburban, but there are few studies that compare the heat influence on pollution in these areas and vice versa, the influence of pollution on heat. For instance, do lower temps mean lower air pollution? The sensors allow us to get these data, like time and location, and how they influence. We’re using a similar approach to the SWMD.

Dr. Liang: Furthermore, we are using limited government resources for on-the ground research, so they are cheaper sensors, but we are putting them in the backyards of individuals, like resident volunteers, and in schools throughout the Lewisville ISD through a partnership with the City.

Dr. Liang: We are sponsored in Denton County only, but we have 70 sites in Denton County. The goal is to reach 100, with long term investigations expected; with spatial statistics for each site, using this to predict continuous daily estimates of heat and pollution. Hot spots can change depending on seasons and time of day. We added the temperature component for NSF in March. Data was collected in June but has not been analyzed.”

Interviewer: Do you have any quick assessment thus far or ‘high-level’ findings?

Dr. Liang: High-level findings thus far show significant levels of air pollution around the landfill, particulate matter density is the same as traffic pollution on a highway. A lot of people live around there, and schools are very close.

Interviewer: Tell me about the student group you work with.

Dr. Liang: Our students consist of a lot of UNT undergrads, specifically geography students, who have also for recruited friends and relatives. There are a lot of UNT professors that have contributed, along with many Master Naturalists in the area [she mentioned that two of her students were creating a story map analysis of this].

Dr. Liang further explained that there was a customized user report for participants that they could send out annually and provide recommendations. For example, if they knew from the research that there is a day your house was observed with higher pollutants and low air quality, they could advise the residents to avoid going outside on those days, or at those times of day, or days of the week.

She further explained that 95% of the field trips are led by students. She took the core groups on their initial field trip, then let those students do the next runs, where each group has a leader. Students gain hands-on experience putting sensors out and taking notes. There is also the aspect she said of evaluating tree measurements from the backyard and aerial surveys that are done in a lab.

Interviewer: How did you recruit participants for this?

Dr. Liang: There were a lot of groups interested, we sent a great deal of internal emails through UNT, and it still caught a lot of citizen’s attention. For 70 sites, 40% were individual participants, made up of the master naturalists, some UNT faculty, City of Lewisville employees, plus Lewisville ISD. The City of Lewisville working is on their master plan for the next 5 to 10 years, with an emphasis on residents being 10 minutes to a park.

They’re also interested in the added ecosystem and societal benefits; air quality improves with more trees, among other benefits. They selected six pilot areas for sensors in neighborhoods, with around twenty sensors on city traffic boxes.

We hope to speak to Dr. Liang again once results have been received and the analysis is completed. Thanks goes out to Dr. Liang for her time and the team for doing such innovative work in our region.

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