A photo of members of the Northeastern and Argonne National Laboratory CROCUS grant with President Gloria J. Gibson during the installation of scientific equipment on the roof of Brommel Hall on May 5, 2023.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Chicago is already experiencing the impacts of climate change—from extreme weather to flooding and heat waves. To better understand how this will affect neighborhoods that are most at risk, scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and Northeastern Illinois University deployed a set of scientific instruments on the rooftop of Bernard J. Brommel Hall on the University’s Main Campus on May 5.

It’s the first installation of scientific instruments for the Urban Integrated Field Laboratory called Community Research on Climate and Urban Science (CROCUS) in Chicago. CROCUS is a five-year, $25-million program carried out by a team of 17 organizations, and funded by DOE’s Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research. The Argonne-led project seeks to understand how climate change will affect urban areas.

“Northeastern is thrilled to be the first site to implement equipment for this groundbreaking study, which will seek to understand the impacts of climate change,” Northeastern President Gloria J. Gibson said. “As the longest-standing four-year public Hispanic-Serving Institution in the Midwest, Northeastern is proud to be a part of this project, knowing that communities of color tend to be overlooked when it comes to how the impacts of the elements—such as temperature, radiation, air pollution, rainfall and other environmental concerns—play in peoples’ overall health and quality of life. Through this collaborative effort, it is our hope that the data collected will shine a much-needed light on the environmental impacts of climate change,” 

The researchers installed a Waggle node—a grouping of sensors that measure wind, temperature, rainfall, snow accumulation, radiation and air pollution. Additionally, the equipment is capable of edge computing—processing data at the source of collection so that researchers can access environmental readings in near-real time. In the next few years, CROCUS partners will deploy nearly 20 sensor arrays across the city to gather more data on Chicago’s changing climate.

Greg Anderson, chair of Northeastern’s Department of Earth Science and Physics and a principal investigator on the project said that NEIU is honored and excited to be part of the CROCUS collaboration. 

“The opportunities provided by this grant connect our students' interests in fundamental science, civic engagement, and social justice,” said Anderson. “With this award, Northeastern Illinois University is expanding and strengthening our environmentally related programs as we prepare a new generation of diverse students to address emerging environmental challenges in the world around us.”

CROCUS’s team of researchers are looking for big-picture data on how weather patterns will change over the next 10 to 50 years as well as more detailed data on what’s happening now, on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. That’s because individual neighborhoods and even city blocks have their own microclimates. These conditions are shaped by everything from the number of trees and greenspaces in the area to the height and color of the rooftops to the historical use of the land on which the neighborhood was built.

Chicago’s microclimates interact with each other in a complex quilt, which in turn interacts with the climates of the surrounding suburbs, farmland and Lake Michigan. Sensors like the ones deployed at NEIU will give researchers greater insight into how those microclimates work. The data collected will allow researchers to create long-term models to better predict how climate change could impact Chicago and other urban areas across the Great Lakes region. In other words, we’ll be able to view that complex quilt and predict how it will change over time.

Timely data on heat islands, flooding and extreme weather will help communities better understand issues they need to address right now to protect their families, neighbors, homes and businesses. 

“There is an urgent need for this research,” said Cristina Negri, director of Argonne’s Environmental Science Division and the lead investigator on the CROCUS project. “In CROCUS, our community, research and educational partners co-lead the conversation on priority needs so that the research we conduct will help assess and address local climate problems in an equitable and relevant way.”

CROCUS is a collaborative study that involves academic, community and civic partners including Argonne National Laboratory, Chicago State University, City Colleges of Chicago, North Carolina A&T State University, Northeastern Illinois University, Northwestern University, University of Chicago, University of Illinois Chicago, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of Notre Dame, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Texas-Austin and Washington University-St. Louis. CROCUS also partners with Discovery Partners Institute in Chicago and with the Centre for Energy, Environmental and Technological Research in Spain.

CROCUS community organizations include Blacks in Green, Greater Chatham Initiative, Puerto Rican Agenda and the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus.

Adding to the excitement around the first instrument deployment, CROCUS has been honored with the Chicago Council on Science and Technology (C2ST) Societal Impact Award, According to C2ST, the award recognizes “an organization, institution or company that has had a significant impact for the betterment of the Chicagoland public and its communities. The purpose of this award is to highlight and promote engagement, outreach, and socially-conscious philanthropy by entities within STEM fields.”

On May 4, Negri accepted the award on behalf of CROCUS at C2ST’s Annual Gala.

“We’re proud to accept the inaugural C2ST’s Societal Impact Award and we look forward to continued collaboration with our partners throughout Chicago,” said Negri. She went on to thank Argonne’s scientific and community collaborators as well as C2ST’s Board of Directors. “The research we conduct and the relationships we build will help Chicago’s neighborhoods plan for a more sustainable and resilient future.”

Top photo: Members of the Northeastern and Argonne National Laboratory CROCUS grant with President Gloria J. Gibson during the installation of scientific equipment on the roof of Brommel Hall on May 5, 2023.