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When researchers from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., recently flew a thermal camera, mounted on a NASA aircraft, over Baton Rouge, La., Sacramento, Calif., and Salt Lake City, Utah, they took each city's temperature and produced an image that pinpoints the cities' “hot spots.”

Now, the researchers are using the images to study what types of surfaces in cities contribute to bubble-like accumulations of hot air, called urban heat islands. The bubbles of hot air develop over cities as naturally vegetated surfaces are replaced with asphalt, concrete, rooftops, and other man-made materials.