Texas Tech University

Graduate Student Earns Award to Study Temperature, Heat in Seoul

George Watson

May 23, 2016


Lexie Herdt will take readings at various points in the South Korean capital to demonstrate various mitigation strategies for heat-related illnesses.

Lexie Herdt

Watch any local televised weather forecast and you will see temperatures given from a couple weather stations in any given city. And the larger the city, the more sparsely populated monitoring stations may be.

However, different areas of the city can register different temperatures depending on the landscape, vegetation, water availability such as ponds or lakes and types of buildings in a particular area. So one area could be hotter than others and require different methods to ensure people in those areas aren't affected by higher temperatures and susceptibility to heat-related illnesses.

This is the research being undertaken by Texas Tech University Atmospheric Sciences group graduate student Lexie Herdt in the Department of Geosciences, who has been granted an opportunity to add to her research by spending her summer in Seoul, South Korea.

Herdt is one of almost 200 students from the U.S. who earned the East Asia and Pacific Summer Institute (EAPSI) Graduate Student Award, an eight-week grant awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to conduct research overseas.

“I will collect fine-scale microclimate measurements in a mobile fashion and compare my data to the temperatures and other weather variables at stationary sites within the city,” Herdt said. “Different areas of the constructed environments in a city will different based on designs, which affects the amount of heat that is present and influencing humans and can result in heat stress and higher energy use in buildings. My goal is to provide the real-world evidence base at a finer scale that is needed to determine what temperatures people are experiencing in their daily lives.”


From June 6 to Aug. 6, Herdt will work with Seoul National University to measure and compare surface and ambient air temperatures, humidity, radiant temperatures and wind speeds in different parts of Seoul in order to show how urban renewal and heat mitigation strategies can lower the instances of heat-related stress and illnesses.

“Lexie will be able to take real-world urban climate observations in an area that was created to provide urban cooling through vegetation and water and quantify the thermal comfort of people and tourists in the area using transect analysis,” said Jennifer Vanos, an assistant professor of atmospheric science in the Department of Geosciences and Herdt's adviser. “We are very proud of her in receiving this prestigious award to learn and work in Korea for the summer and represent Texas Tech.”

The work will complement Herdt's master's thesis, which is based on data from the Pan Am Games in Toronto last summer. Environment Canada set up 53 weather monitoring stations all across the city so people attending the various venues would know the temperature at a certain location and could take the necessary steps to prevent heat-related illnesses.

Herdt is taking the research a step further by accessing Emergency Medical Services data from the regions in Toronto holding the Pan Am Games to see how many people were treated for heat-related incidents and determine which areas were more susceptible to heat stress. From there, she will extrapolate which areas of Toronto were the hottest and what strategies could be implemented, such as adding ‘cool city' initiatives like vegetation, water, cool roofs or shade to reduce the area's temperature.

Herdt hopes performing similar measurements in Seoul, which hosted the 1988 Summer Olympic Games, will add to her research to show how different areas within a city have different needs for to heat-related stress detection and prevention.

“This research could help provide a new perspective on the urban design measures that can be employed in differing cities around the world based on cultural, social and location-specific factors,” Herdt said.

Seoul also provides a unique opportunity, Herdt said, because the city has already implemented some measures in the last 10-15 years to help with overheating of urban areas. Prior to the Korean War, the city center area of Seoul where Herdt will conduct her research had a nice waterway running through its heart where numerous people lived. After the war, however, a highway was built over that waterway, which increased the overall temperature of the area.

In 2003, however, Herdt said the city realized it needed to provide cooler and more usable spaces and make it more comfortable for its citizens, so the highway was destroyed and the waterway was revitalized, adding a few parks in the center of the city.

Herdt will travel transect routes throughout the river area on foot with her mobile microclimate monitoring instruments, taking various readings at points along the way, to see how the microclimate, such as radiation exposure and air temperature, changes. She will then be able to demonstrate how the waterway and vegetation act as heat mitigation strategies for people using the river path, keeping them cool.

“The use of trees, vegetation and waterways in the urban environment brings benefits beyond mitigating heat stress,” Herdt said. “These benefits include reduced energy use, improved air quality and enhanced quality of life. Many cities in the U.S. can benefit from such measures to reduce the urban heat island effect, particularly during peak summer temperatures.”

Upon completion of the grant, Herdt will present a short paper to the EAPSI prior to leaving Korea, then produce a longer, more in-depth paper on her research and findings by March.

Spending the summer in Korea also will allow Herdt the opportunity to build potential future colleagues from other parts of the world who are interested in the same research. That was a big part of the application process, she said, in determining not only which proposals were worthy of study but how the researchers themselves will interact in a completely different culture with others.

“Not only do you have to learn and be responsible for your research but you have to learn to work in a different setting than what you're used to,” Herdt said. “Going to Seoul should be quite an adventure. I have a plan set on how I will conduct my research around the river and parks, and I'm bringing my instruments with me from Texas Tech that are needed to collect the data.”

Herdt also is hoping this research and her trip to Korea can lead her down an eventual career path, either with the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Environmental Protection. Her expertise is in air quality and heat effects, and this experience could prove crucial to furthering not only her research but her life after earning her master's degree in Summer 2017.

“My research in Seoul this summer will undoubtedly further my experience in the field of human biometeorology,” Herdt said. “I am excited to represent Texas Tech University and the atmospheric science group and bring back innovative ideas and new knowledge to the U.S.”