Question: What are ways to record ambient temperature every 5 sec and export easily?

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by carohowe | July 13, 2017 21:08 | #14650

I am trying to figure out how we can give cyclists across DC temperature sensors that would capture temperature data at a minimum of every 5 seconds (or even faster, if possible) as they travel through the city. I am looking for something that could plug directly into a phone, so the data could easily be shared, or something that could be downloaded via USB. Data would not need to be immediately transmitted in real-time.

Any suggestions on the best ready-to-use devices? Priorities right now are: sensitive to temperature changes, able to take readings every 5 seconds (or less), fairly lightweight, and ability to store 2000 data points, minimum, before downloading. Battery drain and price, at this point, basically not an issue.

In the medium-term, we're looking for folks in DC interested in trying to disseminate more of these sensors and organize some DIY classes to make what we'd need to capture that type of thermal information more broadly across the city.

The background and context: I'm part of a research team at the University of the District of Columbia and am working on a multidisciplinary project looking at urban heat islands in the district, and particularly to see if farms and parks have a similar effect to forested areas on urban heat island, or whether the shading and evapotranspiration effects of trees make forested-cooling much more significant. Happy for collaborators interested in this question or in creating more mobile temperature sensors that can record or track data over long(ish) periods of time.


A data logger based on an Arduino microcontroller is well suited to the task of recording temperature every few seconds. The simplest Arduino combined with an SD card, clock, and sensor is all that is needed. This approach does not put the data onto a phone, but stores it on a microSD card that must be moved to a computer for transferring the data.

This approach does not record the location of each temperature reading which might be important for your project. The exact time of each temperature reading is stored with the data, so that can be used to match up location data from another device. Or a GPS module can be added to the Arduino device so location coordinates are stored with each data point.

Here are some kits available for doing these things. All save data to a microSD card. All run for several hours on four AAA or AA batteries. All work with exposed sensors which will respond quickly to changes in temperature. All can save 10,000 to 50,000 data points on a microSD card:

  1. Nano Logger Kit: Snaps together in a few minutes and records time, temperature, and barometric pressure every few seconds. $29.00
  2. Mini Pearl Logger Kit: Must be soldered together (a few hours work). Needs an additional ($2.50) temperature sensor. Has the potential to run for weeks on batteries. $19.00
  3. SkyPod Kit: Records time, temperature, pressure, and GPS coordinates (lat, lon, alt) every few seconds. Must be soldered together (a few hours work). $44.00

It is also easy to buy the individual components to combine into similar devices.

There are also some products which work with a phone to collect temperature data. The following are two of many:
Temp Stick


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Hi, Caroline!!

I agree with Chris - though if you're looking to download data (either as you go or once you're done) to a phone easily, you might consider using WebJack, which involves adding a headset jack to an Arduino so that you can transfer data using sounds (like an old modem).

So you could either just record continuously (though that'd run your phone battery pretty hard) or you could use a data logger like Chris points to, and then transfer to your phone by pressing a button to "play back" the data. Of course you could also just copy off the SD card, but since you requested connection directly to phone, this might be an option.

But it does seem that iPhones won't be able to do this until the fall, when they finally adopt the WebRTC feature that makes this kind of audio connection possible.

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Also, Caroline, it might be worth posting a second question (linking to this one maybe) specifically seeking collaborators in the DC area -- i can circulate this too but just so there are distinct requests, just a thought. Thanks!

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Thanks! Will do!

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Wig Zamore posted this on the main publiclaboratory list:

Hi Jeff and Everyone -

Two papers you may want to look at, both open access. One by Steve Hankey in EHP summarizing efforts that used bicycles and other methods, one by Joshua Apte using Aclima sensors on Google Street View vehicles. Including the latter because the technology could presumably be adapted fairly easily for bicycles. Both are pretty new, thus the references may also be interesting. The Hankey paper has embedded live links back to the papers with more details on bicycle based monitoring. Additionally, you may want to look at the presentations made on sensors at this year's annual Health Effects Institute conference.

Cheers, Wig

Apte ES&T High-Resolution Air Pollution Mapping with Google Street View Cars: Exploiting Big Data

Hankey EHP Population-Level Exposure to Particulate Air Pollution during Active Travel: Planning for Low-Exposure, Health-Promoting Cities

HEI Sensor Presentations - Scroll down to session entitled Making Sense of Sensor Data: Promises and Pitfalls, to see the four presentations

Cheers, Wig

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Hi Caroline! I could post this on the DC Women and Bicycles forum and a couple other bike groups I'm a part of. I think some of the cyclists I know in DC would love to help you with this (also happy to post to our EPA bike group listserve to see if any EPA employees who bike commute could help out) Let me know if you're okay with me cutting and pasting the description, and if so, what contact info I should put with it. An email address?

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@pera THANK YOU! That would be ideal! (Also, I'd LOVE to join the DC Women and Bicycles forum anyway!) I would love for you to share the information! This may be a little confusing, but can you put my work contact on your email out -- caroline.howe AT -- but add me to the DC women & bikes forum with personal email -- carolinelhowe AT ? Thanks so much, this is fantastic!

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Hi @carohowe, this sounds like an interesting project! In addition to broadly looking at the impacts of greenspaces, I wonder if it would be interesting to investigate how that overlays with neighborhood socioeconomic status -- it could be an important demonstration of an environmental justice issue.

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Thanks @gretchengehrke -- that's definitely what we're looking into! So many of DC's food deserts and low-income areas are also by far the hottest, from what data we've seen so far. As city policymakers think about green space investments in these parts of the city, there are so many factors to consider (food production, community spaces, etc) but addressing urban heat island and air pollution in these areas is part of it too!

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@carohowe, Agreed! I read a paper a while ago (which I can't seem to find now) that demonstrated higher instances of asthma in neighborhoods with fewer trees (at least in the city they studied). It's so important.

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