Erin Foley Completes Research Work with NASA

Bronxville High School senior Erin Foley combined her passion for computer science and the environment when she interned at NASA’s Climate Change Research Initiative at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Working alongside a team of scientists, she investigated the urban heat island effect in New York City.  


“Urban heat islands are of increasing interest to researchers and policymakers as summer heatwaves in urban communities continue to impact public health,” Foley said. “Using NASA’s satellite data and geospatial equations, I made maps of land surface temperatures and vegetative health indices over Brooklyn, noting spatial anomalies that inspired me to investigate why certain neighborhoods were experiencing higher average temperatures and lower vegetative health indices. My primary personal research explored whether a neighborhood’s historic housing policies have impacted its current experience with urban heat island intensity, and I aimed to quantify this relationship with code.” 

Foley said she was drawn to NASA for its innovative exploration and perseverance and the scientists’ desire to benefit humanity.  


“After interning with NASA, I am hopeful rather than fearful for our climate’s future, as I have witnessed the unwavering devotion of those working to save it firsthand,” she said. “The people at NASA never failed to amaze me in their ability to find determination even in moments of distress.” 


While Foley and the scientists’ paper is being reviewed to be published in a journal this year, she has continued to work on her research independently this fall with the support of her NASA mentors. She is building on the team’s previous research to analyze the impact of impervious surfaces and tree canopy on urban heat island intensity. In addition, Foley co-authored a presentation with a Ph.D. student on her team for the American Geophysical Union, and she will be a presenting author at the American Meteorological Society this winter. As part of her Service and Advocacy class at Bronxville High School, Foley is applying her satellite-based research to an analysis of environmental inequity in Westchester County. 


Prior to her summer internship, Foley said she didn’t have any scientific research experience; however, she realized that if she was passionate enough about an injustice – for her, that’s climate change – then she’s capable of making a difference. 


“I think high schoolers underestimate our ability to make a difference – especially in STEM fields – but I believe that it’s my youthful perspectives that made me an asset to my team,” Foley said. “Because our generation often seeks to highlight intersections between various current global issues and injustice, we hold insights that are necessary for the application of engineering to benefit humanity.”