Extreme Indian Heat Wave: NASA’s ECOSTRESS Detects Blistering “Heat Islands”

ECOSTRESS Heat Islands India

NASA’s ECOSTRESS instrument made this image of ground temperatures near Delhi (lower right), around midnight on May 5. The urban “heat islands” of Delhi and smaller villages peaked at 102 degrees Fahrenheit (39 degrees Celsius) while nearby fields were about 40 degrees Fahrenheit cooler. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The instrument aboard the space station documents blistering hot temperatures in urban areas around Delhi during the historic heat wave on the Indian subcontinent.

A relentless heat wave has engulfed India and Pakistan since mid-March, causing dozens of deaths, fires, increased air pollution, and reduced crop yields. Weather forecasts show no prospect of relief any time soon. NASA’s Ecosystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station instrument (ECOSTRESS) has been measuring these temperatures from space, at the highest spatial resolution of any satellite instrument.

This ECOSTRESS Land Surface Temperature image, taken shortly before local midnight on May 5, shows urban areas and agricultural lands northwest of Delhi (the large red area in the lower right) that are home to about 28 million people. The image covers about 4,800 square miles (12,350 square kilometers).

Cities are usually markedly warmer than the surrounding countryside due to human activities and the materials used in the built environment. The image clearly delineates these urban “heat islands.” Nighttime temperatures in Delhi and several smaller villages were above 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius), peaking at about 102 degrees F (39 degrees C), while the rural fields nearby had cooled to around 60 degrees F (15 degrees C). This data suggests that city dwellers are experiencing considerably higher temperatures than the average temperatures recorded for their regions.

ECOSTRESS measures the temperature of the ground itself, which is very similar to air temperature at night (though the ground may be warmer than the air in daylight hours). The instrument was launched to the space station in 2018. Its primary mission is to identify plants’ thresholds for water use and water stress, giving insight into their ability to adapt to a warming climate. However, ECOSTRESS also records other heat-related phenomena, like this heat wave. With a pixel size of about 225 feet (70 meters) by 125 feet (38 meters), its high-resolution images serve as a powerful tool for understanding aspects of the weather event that might be overlooked by traditional observation networks.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California built and manages the ECOSTRESS mission for the Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. ECOSTRESS is an Earth Venture Instrument mission; the program is managed by NASA’s Earth System Science Pathfinder program at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

2 Comments on "Extreme Indian Heat Wave: NASA’s ECOSTRESS Detects Blistering “Heat Islands”"

  1. This is just gods way of dealing with a country filled with charlatans and scammers

  2. Bonnie Davis | May 20, 2022 at 1:10 pm | Reply

    Interesting article about India. I was from Miami, FL. At 98 with a humidity at 85 it is breathless and everyone is cranky. Air conditioning has been available since around the late 60s, early 70. As a child sitting in a desk on the second floor of my school, I remember being so hot but not unbearably hot. A lot depends on what you are used to having. I read somewhere that at 124 decrees human life is lost. Sounds like they are getting close. They need cooling stations which I am sure they are unable to provide for their citizens. Horrible to hear something that you just can’t help somehow. This world is in terrible shape. You’d think that people could treat one another better. Instead of spending money on wars, spend a little helping others stay alive.

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