NASA detects 'heat islands' amid extreme Indian heatwave

The fatal heatwave has blanketed India and Pakistan since March with temperatures reaching as high as 45C.

NASA’s ECOSTRESS on International Space Station detects ‘heat islands’ amid Indian heatwave  iStock
Average temperatures in March were the highest in 122 years.

NASA has detected “heat islands” in urban areas around Delhi during the historic heatwave on the Indian subcontinent.

The heatwave descended onto India and Pakistan in March 2022, causing dozens of deaths, fires, increased air pollution and reduced crop yields.

The Ecosystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS) instrument has been measuring these blistering temperatures from space, at the highest spatial resolution of any satellite instrument.

The image, taken shortly before midnight on May 5 (Indian Standard Time), shows urban areas and agricultural lands northwest of Delhi, that are home to around 28 million people.

NASA: The 'heat islands' show urban areas are significantly warmer, even at night.
NASA: The ‘heat islands’ show urban areas are significantly warmer, even at night.

Cities are usually markedly warmer than the surrounding countryside due to human activities and the materials used in the built environment.

Night time temperatures in Delhi and several smaller villages were above 35C, peaking at about 39C.

Meanwhile, the rural fields nearby had cooled to around 15C around the same time.

The ECOSTRESS’s data suggests that city dwellers are experiencing considerably higher temperatures than the average temperatures reported for their regions.

Earlier this month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked state chief ministers to draw up plans to control the negative effects of peaking temperatures.

While heatwaves are common in India, especially in May and June, summer began early this year with high temperatures from March.

Average maximum temperatures for the month were the highest in 122 years.

The Indian Meteorological Department showed maximum temperatures of more than 45C in the north of the country on Sunday.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory 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.