Next to a nearly 200-foot-tall red-and-white striped tower of the Argonne National Laboratory is a building full of newly opened instrument cases. These tools measure climate conditions like air quality and precipitation, and compared to the lab’s historical tools, like the tower outside, they’re small — really small.
Because instead of measuring the region’s atmospheric conditions from Argonne’s sprawling location in DuPage County, the researchers will be using these tools in a different kind of laboratory — the city of Chicago. The data collected will be used in modeling to show the effects of climate on scales as small as individual neighborhoods, said Cristina Negri, the project’s director.
Argonne recently received a $25 million grant from the US Department of Energy to set up a city lab in Chicago called Community Research on Climate and Urban Science, or CROCUS. Researchers at the lab will develop datasets about Chicago’s climate by placing instruments around the city and collecting observations from the community.
It is known that some of the effects of climate change, such as Increased flooding and urban heat, for example, are disproportionately affecting certain communities, particularly those in South and West Chicago. The lab wants to quantify that, Negri said.
“It’s really about providing the data to show what the drivers of this difference are and then how it materializes,” Negri said. “Until you know that and have data to back it up, it’s very difficult to take action.”
What makes this operation unique, said Naomi Davis, founder and CEO of Blacks in Green, an environmental justice and economic development organization, is that community members have been involved in Argonne’s plans from the beginning. She said organizations in the black community are often contacted at the end of a process, after decisions have been made and the project designed.
“These are approaches that have always been inappropriate and that we reject,” Davis said. “So the beauty of the Argonne approach was that they invited us into a process of designing a process.”
Surrounded by about 12 acres of prairie teeming with yellow and purple wildflowers, researchers gathered at the Argonne Proving Grounds on a blue-sky weekday to troubleshoot some of the tools that will eventually be installed in Chicago.
There was palpable excitement when Paytsar Muradyan, an assistant atmospheric scientist, opened a box.
“It’s like Christmas,” said one team member.
Inside was an atmospheric lidar, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging. The machine sends a rapidly pulsing laser into the sky to gather information about the composition of the air, including pollutants such as particulate matter emitted by industries and vehicles.
Several of those machines — as well as sensors to measure temperature, soil composition, rainfall and more — will be connected to central computers to make the sensors autonomous, said Scott Collis, who leads the measurement strategy team. These computers will also use artificial intelligence and algorithms to recognize patterns and ensure the technology provides the best data in relation to a city’s unique characteristics, such as city history. B. the effects collects of buildings in the wind.
Where each device goes depends on a variety of factors. One goal is to place these instruments in places where environmental conditions are visibly changing, like the treetops in Hyde Park compared to West Woodlawn, Collis said. Measuring at these points allows the lab’s simulations to determine the magnitude of the difference.
However, the most important factor in determining instrument location is the contribution of community members, he said.
The effort includes more than 10 academic partners and four community partners: the Puerto Rican Agenda of Humboldt Park, Blacks in Green in West Woodlawn, the Greater Chatham Initiative, and the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus.
“The scientific questions that we’re going to ask will be very informed by very deep conversations that we’re going to have with the community,” Negri said.
Jessie Fuentes, co-chair of Chicago’s Puerto Rican Agenda, said Argonne provided information to the organization about the organization’s specific climate concerns Humboldt Park, such as rising heat, lack of green spaces and increased flooding, and Puerto Rico. “This struck a very personal chord with many of us involved in Hurricane Maria,” Fuentes said.
The Puerto Rican agenda spearheaded relief efforts for Hurricane Maria in 2017 and is calling for renewed action after Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico this week and left the island without power.
Fuentes hopes this project can provide a model for how climate solutions should be culturally relevant to the people the problem directly affects.
“It really does away with the one-size-fits-all model,” Fuentes said.
Davis said she is looking at where this information could take her community in West Woodlawn.
“One of the things that African American communities are fed up with is studying — we’ve had institutions studying us through the ages, but our lot never improves,” she said. “So the rest of the story is about how we take the data that we get and apply it to the health, prosperity and well-being of black communities.”
Collis described the lab’s operations as cyclical. Communities will provide input on areas of interest such as flood sites or significant weather vulnerability, which will help where researchers are collecting observations around the city. These observations are used in the lab’s climate simulations, providing more detailed, scalable pictures of what climate change looks like.
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The lab will provide open datasets for other agencies, organizations and researchers to use in their work, as well as websites open to the public.
One of the key metrics of success will be ensuring that this data can help individuals and organizations do their jobs, Collis said. For example, if an organization advocates for green space in a particular area, Collis hopes the data from that group’s lab can provide actionable metrics.
“Just having the data helps create awareness that drives people to take action,” Fuentes said.
The lab will also use citizen science to allow community members to collect data points themselves. For example, wearable air quality monitors, which resemble green walkie-talkies, allow people to get information about the air around them by connecting to a mobile app via Bluetooth.
While the hand tools aren’t as precise as some of the more expensive technologies, they can reveal notable differences in air quality from one area to another, Collis said. And even this simpler technology is calibrated with the Argonne system.
With encouragement from community members, the lab hopes to get these palm-sized sensors into the hands of interested parties, including schoolchildren, so they can measure environmental factors in their homes and in their backyards.
“This is a new paradigm for science,” Collis said. “And it feels right.”