NASA uses an ATLAS imager to gather thermal images of parts of Earth's surface. These images help scientists understand how the heat captured and then released by a city's buildings and pavement coupled with the loss of trees and other vegetation affect local weather, air quality, and air and surface temperatures.
It is important for us to know how human activities influence the environment. Scientists use aerial photos, satellite images, maps, census data, and other information to examine land use changes and the impact they have on the environment. For example, aerial photos and thermal measurements of an area in Huntsville, Alabama, are used in this investigation to study the effect of urbanization on surface temperatures. Interestingly, shopping malls and their surrounding areas provide excellent examples of temperature changes produced when trees and vegetation are replaced by buildings and pavement.
NASA collected the Huntsville images used in this investigation with ATLAS (Airborne Thermal/Visible Land Application Sensor), which sees in 15 colors, aboard a Lear 23 jet. The ATLAS imager scans and maps heat patterns in urban areas.
Studying malls helps students to develop an ecological perspective by considering the environmental consequences of land use change, in this case the removal of vegetative cover and natural habitat. There are intended and unintended environmental consequences when a shopping mall is constructed. Intended consequences include construction of roads and clearance of land to provide parking. Unintended consequences include creation of traffic problems, absorption and consequent radiation of heat after sundown by large areas of pavement, and an increase in water pollution from oil and salt runoff from parking lots.