Environmental System Science Program
U.S. Department of Energy | Office of Science | Biological and Environmental Research Program

Urban Integrated Field Laboratories

Urban Landscapes. Urban integrated field laboratories focus on climate-sensitive and highly heterogeneous locations having uneven distribution of physical landforms and vegetation, environmental processes, the built environment and infrastructure, population density, and socioeconomic clustering in the urban landscape, particularly when that heterogeneity relates to impacts on disadvantaged communities.

Urban Integrated Field Laboratories (UIFLs) are a division-wide effort across BER’s Earth and Environmental Systems Sciences Division (EESSD) to advance the science underpinning our understanding of the predictability of urban systems and interactions with the climate system, and to provide the knowledge and information necessary to inform equitable climate and energy solutions that can strengthen community-scale resilience across urban landscapes.

UIFL research encompasses the interdependent environmental, ecological, infrastructure, and human components of urban systems. UIFLs must involve diverse scientific disciplines to develop comprehensive projects, including field observations, data assimilation, modeling, and model-data fusion, to inform equitable solutions based on state-of-the-art uncertainty quantification and data analytics.

UIFLs emphasize the basic sciences of climate, environmental, ecological, and urban change affecting heterogeneous urban regions, with a view toward informing sustainable, resilient, and equitable solutions. Research combines new observations with high-resolution and highly detailed urban modeling, where data generated by observations and models are used for scientific analysis. UIFLs provide opportunities to inspire, train, and support leading scientists from a variety of organizations, including minority-serving institutions (MSIs), who have an appreciation for the global climate and energy challenges of the 21st century. They tap the imagination and creativity of a diverse scientific and stakeholder community to address the fundamental questions of how urban systems work under the pressures of a dynamically changing climate and this new knowledge can be harnessed for some of our most critical real-world challenges.

UIFL research teams are comprised of diverse institutions, including DOE national laboratories, academic and nonprofit research institutions, other federal agencies, and private sector organizations. Because EESSD’s UIFL activity is intended to inform environmental justice and associated science underpinning equitable solutions, local organizations and MSIs have significant roles in each UIFL management team. UIFLs engage a diverse workforce to include the many communities, identities, races, ethnicities, backgrounds, abilities, cultures, and beliefs of the American people, including underserved communities.

New Awards: Urban IFL Projects

Four UIFLs were awarded in fall 2022. These projects were selected by competitive peer review under the DOE Funding Opportunity Announcement DE-FOA-0002581: Urban Integrated Field Laboratories. Each UIFL represents different aspects of understanding urban systems, including diverse demographic characteristics, differing climate-induced pressures on people and infrastructures, and unique geographic and climatic settings.

 

Baltimore. Baltimore is representative of the climate challenges faced by many midsized industrial cities in the United States, and in particular with eastern “rust belt” cities that face interlinked challenges of aging infrastructure, stagnant populations, increased heat and flood risk, and inequitable burdens of air and water pollution.

Baltimore Social-Environmental Collaborative Urban Integrated Field Laboratory (BSEC UIFL)

BSEC website

Benjamin Zaitchik, Johns Hopkins University (Lead PI)

Participating Institutions:

  • Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies
  • City University of New York
  • Drexel University
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Morgan State University
  • National Renewal Energy Laboratory
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • United States Forest Service
  • University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC)
  • University of Virginia

The Baltimore Social-Environmental Collaborative (BSEC) seeks a new paradigm for urban climate research. Inspired by the UIFL call to provide knowledge that informs equitable solutions that can strengthen community-scale resilience, the collaborative proposes a people-centered, transdisciplinary IFL. BSEC begins with community priorities (human health and safety, affordable energy, transportation equity, and others) and city government priorities (clean waterways, decarbonization, functioning infrastructure) and designs observation networks and models that will deliver the climate science capable of supporting those priorities. This means that BSEC takes the form of an iterative collaborative cycle, in which an initial observation and modeling strategy is continuously updated in conversation with community partners. The guiding objective of this cycle is to produce the urban climate science needed to inform community-guided “potential equitable pathways” for climate action. In doing so, BSEC researchers will address a number of fundamental urban science questions from across natural science and social science disciplines.

BSEC focuses on Baltimore, a metropolitan area that is representative of the climate challenges faced by many midsized industrial cities in the United States, and in particular with eastern “rust belt” cities that face interlinked challenges of aging infrastructure, stagnant populations, increased heat and flood risk, and inequitable burdens of air and water pollution. These cities are challenging and critical places for equitable climate solutions. The BSEC Equitable Pathways approach aligns urban science with information needs through coupled cycles of model and observation improvement and participatory assessment of climate risks in the context of multiple, potentially competing priorities. Recognizing that city residents and institutions have diverse and sometimes competing goals, researchers have placed a multi-objective analysis tool at the center of the BSEC project plan. This analysis tool offers an integrating nexus to inform and challenge urban climate science with the decision needs of the residents and stakeholders who ultimately determine the success of climate action. Researchers will deploy advanced urban environmental measurement networks combined with the best urban models available. The model-data observatory will document urban microclimate, hydrology and air quality, indoor and outdoor, with unparalleled resolution and encompass the processes that govern these critical state variables. The model improvement cycle that uses these data and models to develop the best possible urban climate modeling systems will be informed by and adapt to community needs, creating a truly community-centered urban climate observatory.

Equitable climate solutions begin with community knowledge. The role of a solutions-oriented UIFL is to amplify and enhance that knowledge, and this is only possible when there is mutual trust and respect across all project partners. The BSEC team includes collaborators from neighborhood organizations, city government, non-government community development organizations, federal environmental and research agencies, and academic researchers from a wide range of disciplines. Together, BSEC will build a collaborative urban science framework that brings advanced measurement and observation methods into conversation with community and government deliberation on climate action. In doing so, the BSEC IFL will provide a model for community-oriented interdisciplinary urban science that advances climate solutions in Baltimore and that can be applied in many other metropolitan areas. BSEC will also establish a new generation of urban climate scientists and urban modeling systems capable of supporting predictions and community planning across a wide range of urban areas.

 

Community Research on Climate and Urban Science Urban Integrated Field Laboratory (CROCUS UIFL)

CROCUS website

Chicago Lakefront. The Chicago region, reclaimed from a swamp and nestled between Lake Michigan and former prairie land now converted to agriculture, presents formidable opportunities for novel science.

Cristina Negri, Argonne National Laboratory (Lead PI)

Participating Institutions:

  • Argonne National Laboratory
  • Center for Energy, Environmental and Technological Research
  • Chicago State University
  • City Colleges of Chicago
  • North Carolina A&T State University
  • Northeastern Illinois University
  • Northwestern University
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Illinois at Chicago
  • University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign
  • University of Notre Dame
  • University of Texas–Austin
  • University of Wisconsin–Madison
  • Washington University–St. Louis

The Community Research on Climate and Urban Science (CROCUS) UIFL is a community-driven scientific effort to understand the interactions between cities and climate. The large CROCUS team, led by Argonne National Laboratory and including an inclusive set of scientific, educational, and community organizations, will advance urban science in the highly diverse Chicago region as a playbook that can be used by other major cities.

CROCUS will leverage existing, extensive observational and modeling capabilities and will empower and actively involve diverse communities as part of the research team to enable just, long-term societal benefits from climate mitigation and adaptation, such as reducing emissions and adapting neighborhoods to address future effects of climate change. Through the planned research activities, CROCUS will provide extensive educational opportunities to students from Minority Serving Institutions and Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as well as chart the path to novel climate-focused careers.

The Chicago region, reclaimed from a swamp and nestled between the understudied, but critically important, Lake Michigan and former prairie land now converted to agriculture, presents formidable opportunities for novel science. CROCUS will enact a network of observations and modeling efforts to unravel the effects of local and regional climate processes on communities, and conversely to understand how urban systems affect their regional climate. Working with community leaders and addressing community-driven objectives, CROCUS will develop tools for future urban science, include the needs of diverse, understudied communities, and inform key objectives of major regional climate planning documents.

Examples of CROCUS activities include:

  • the development of new ways to sense, monitor and process environmental conditions to be used by models
  • the advancement of the state-of-the art in representing urban systems in Earth System/climate models (ESMs), and linking ESMs with decision science models
  • extend the benefits of the science outcomes to communities to identify and deploy equitable climate solutions and understand their system-wide impacts
  • define specific problems and research gaps related to the Chicago region
  • provide tools and methods for measuring the impacts of the clean energy transition has on climate and community livelihood and inform the tradeoffs and outcomes that are most responsive to community needs.

CROCUS’s modular, portable, and scalable approach to integrate modeling with experimentation and observations will connect amicably with other UIFLs to coproduce knowledge and advance fundamental and community urban climate science. The outcomes of CROCUS will leapfrog scalability from local to global climate models, deliver best practices for public-private-industry-community partnerships, and revolutionize how America addresses urban sustainability with distributed and equitable urban solutions.

The CROCUS team includes Argonne National Laboratory, academic institutions (Chicago State University, City Colleges of Chicago, North Carolina A&T State University, Northeastern Illinois University, Northwestern University, University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of Notre Dame, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Texas-Austin, and Washington University-St. Louis) and community organizations (Blacks in Green, Greater Chatham Initiative, Puerto Rican Agenda, and the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus).

 

Southeast Texas Urban Integrated Field Laboratory (SETx UIFL) – Equitable solutions for communities caught between floods and air pollution

Beaumont, Texas. The Beaumont/Port Arthur region represents the climate adaptation needs, population diversity and vulnerability, and ecological richness that characterize many urban centers along the Gulf Coast.

Paola Passalacqua, University of Texas at Austin (Lead PI)

Participating Institutions:

  • Lamar University
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory
  • Prairie View A&M University
  • Texas A&M University
  • University of Texas–Austin

The Gulf Coast contains an extensive and diverse range of natural features and human settlements, with a disproportionate number of vulnerable communities. The region faces regular “acute-on-chronic” hazards in which short-notice technological and natural stressors (e.g., coastal storms, oil spills) occur alongside long-term chronic environmental, industrial, and social stressors (e.g., subsidence, population growth, toxic pollution). This region will serve as a bellwether of change, providing either successful or failed adaptation of these compounded and coupled crises. However, addressing these challenges requires scientific understanding in how the Earth system and the water cycle will change in the coming decades; how anthropogenic alterations will affect the water cycle and air pollution through urbanization and human migration, water infrastructure, and land cover change; and how community level green infrastructure intended to mitigate these stressors can in turn alter physical processes and the water cycle.

This UIFL has the goal of addressing the following questions: Which processes and variables need to be captured in regional scale hydrological and atmospheric models so that they are representative of the conditions experienced by local communities and help inform adaptation strategies? And how can researchers understand the linkages between and within natural, built, and social systems in urbanized regions to better support natural and human resilience?

The proposed region for the UIFL is Southeast Texas (SETx), specifically the Beaumont-Port Arthur region. This urban area represents the climate adaptation needs, population diversity and vulnerability, and ecological richness that characterize many urban centers along the Gulf Coast. Beaumont has experienced continued urban expansion and increased impervious cover over the past several decades; these changes have likely led to increased urban heat island effect and reduced capacity to absorb rainwater, exacerbating existing climate risk. In addition, the Beaumont, Port Arthur area is home to one of the nation’s largest petrochemical industrial complexes, which make it more vulnerable to climate-induced disasters capable of significant air toxics releases, in addition to chronic air toxic exposures that can raise the risk of cancer and other adverse health outcomes.

The long-term goals for SETx-IFL are to provide quantitative understanding of projected climate change impacts across SETx-IFL in a way that is generalizable to other regions and improve the practice of resilience science and community resilience through new and generalizable theories of change validated in SETx-IFL. To achieve these goals, SETx-IFL coordinates numerous disciplines, scholars, and community stakeholders toward the short-term goals of (1) integrating new data, methods, and models about the interactions among natural, human-built, and social systems; (2) increasing our understanding of interdependencies, mutual benefits, and trade-offs of different wellbeing outcomes for humans and the environment; (3) coproducing knowledge with stakeholders; and d) centering concepts of social equity in urbanized regions across spatial and temporal scales.

Following the model of convergence principles, SETx-IFL is organized via three crosscutting themes, which are linked through data collection strategies and community engagement supported by a Knowledge Management Platform (KMP). Three Activity Areas (AAs) coordinate activities across the themes and KMP to ensure impacts are useful beyond the SETx-IFL. Broader Impacts of the SETx-IFL include: the codevelopment of climate scenarios with stakeholders; educational opportunities around convergence science in both formal and informal learning environments; citizen science and participatory research methods to codesign research projects and promote co-learning between residents and scholars; and broadened participation of underrepresented faculty and student groups in science and engineering to undertake community engagement in culturally and ethically appropriate ways.

 

Southwest Urban Corridor Integrated Field Laboratory (SW-IFL)

Phoenix, Arizona. The Southwest Urban Corridor UIFL represents one of the fastest growing urban corridors in the U.S., including major cities of Tucson, Phoenix, and Flagstaff.

David Sailor, Arizona State University (Lead PI)

Participating Institutions:

  • Brookhaven National Laboratory
  • IBM
  • Northern Arizona University
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory
  • University of Arizona

The Southwest Urban Corridor Integrated Field Laboratory project (SW-IFL) led by Arizona State University (ASU) will study the rapidly urbanizing “megaregion” that stretches across the state of Arizona from the Mexican border in the south to the Navajo (Diné) Nation in the north. This growing urban megaregion is experiencing stresses resulting from a warming climate and population growth. This region contains one of the fastest growing urban corridors in the U.S., including major cities of Tucson, Phoenix, and Flagstaff. With most of the region’s urban areas routinely experiencing 30+ days of temperatures above 110 °F each summer, the population is stressed by the complex interactions of extreme heat, atmospheric pollutants, and limited water. The SW-IFL will seek to provide scientists and decision makers with high-quality, relevant knowledge capable guiding responses to these environmental concerns.

The SW-IFL will develop and deploy novel observational and modeling capabilities that improve understanding of extreme heat as a central driver of key environmental outcomes, including greenhouse gas emissions, urban water stress, and fate and transport of urban air pollutants in the complex Arizona megaregion. Observations will leverage existing networks of weather, air quality, and hydrological measurements, supplementing available data with crucial new measurements of land-atmosphere exchange processes, atmospheric composition, and emissions. Intensive observational periods (IOP) throughout the summer months (from hot/arid pre-monsoon months throughout the peak of the North American monsoon season) will use mobile observatories to measure large-scale boundary-layer processes and focused neighborhood-scale heavily instrumented testbed experiments to elucidate drivers of microclimate variations and to evaluate the efficacy of proposed solutions.

The integration of new observations with innovations in coupled models across scales will enable high resolution modeling. Next-generation predictive modeling capabilities for urban regions will be developed by improving representations of fine-scale physical processes, while coupling existing state-of-the-art models that integrate human behavior and atmospheric phenomena ranging from neighborhood to regional and global scales. The results will assist decision-makers in analyzing and evaluating solutions that promote equitable and effective policy interventions across the region. The integration of high-resolution observations (atmospheric, land surface, and infrastructure), diagnostic and predictive models, and civic engagement will provide new knowledge and deliver next-generation predictive tools that are regionally specific but also translatable to other arid regions. Ultimately, the new tools will empower the public to respond to extreme heat, while informing the development and deployment of policies and solutions that are effective, equitable, and generalizable.