Closing Heat Data Gaps in Climate Disease Frontline Communities (2024-2025)


Global mean temperature has been increasing, posing a significant human health risk. A significant knowledge gap in addressing impacts of elevated temperatures on human health is the lack of high-resolution heat exposure data, especially in low- and middle-income communities. Importantly, the magnitude and the rate of change in heat exposure are spatially heterogeneous and difficult to ascertain only from remote sensing data. Due to poor on-the-ground monitoring, evaluation capacities and data gaps in current and historical heat exposure trends, the impacts of heat stress are likely underestimated in many communities around the world. These communities remain highly vulnerable to health impacts related to heat stress. 

A striking example of a human health outcome linked to heat stress is the emergence of a high prevalence of chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology (CKDu) in hot, tropical farming communities around the world in Mesoamerican and South Asian countries. Exposure to elevated heat stress is thought to be a key driver of CKDu and the New England Journal of Medicine identifies CKDu as a “climate change sentinel disease.” However, the precise role of heat stress in CKDu remains contentious due to the lack of high-spatial-resolution individualized heat exposure data and analytical expertise in CKDu-impacted communities. It is critical to implement a high-resolution heat exposure monitoring program in CKDu-impacted regions to predict and inform at-risk populations.

Project Description

This project will bring together Duke researchers and students from the University of Ruhuna, Sri Lanka to implement a high-spatial resolution heat exposure monitoring program in CKDu-impacted and un-impacted communities. Ongoing epidemiology studies in Sri Lanka indicate a role for heat exposure in kidney injury in farmers engaged in strenuous labor. However, high resolution and individualized heat data are critically needed to develop a better correlation between heat exposure and kidney health.

Team members will estimate the long-term simplified wet bulb globe temperature and Brimicombe wet bulb globe temperature in Sri Lanka between 1980 and 2022.  Team members will then install two weather monitoring stations with relative humidity, air temperature and black globe temperature sensors close to Padawiya and Matara field sites to collect hourly data. 

Padawiya in the North Central province has a high prevalence of CKDu among agricultural workers, and Matara in the Southern province will serve as a control site. Two other monitoring stations will be established at the paddy farming lands in Padawiya and Matara sites. 

In-situ heat monitoring will run for the entire project period. Team members will analyze all measurements depending on the behavior of the data to determine a correlation between heat exposure and kidney injury in CKDu-impacted and unimpacted communities.

The team will share project outcomes with stakeholders through research publications, newspaper articles, conference presentations and workshops. Meetings will be held with the Sri Lankan health ministry through the University of Ruhuna to discuss and implement heat exposure guidelines.

Anticipated Outputs

Peer-reviewed manuscript(s); posters; video; interinstitutional workshops and ongoing collaborations

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will include 3 graduate students and 8 undergraduate students with interests in environmental science, environmental sensing and instrumentation, field sampling, tropical environments, data analysis and/or storytelling. 

Team members will gain experience in scientific writing, weather station installation, monitoring and data retrieval, field sampling, data analytical techniques and programming languages MATLAB and R. Students will have the opportunity to communicate data and results to inform policy decisions and population health analyses. Team members will interact in cultural exchanges with students and mentors from participating institutes and communities. Interested students will have opportunities to develop their capstones and/or theses, and depending on the results generated, there will be opportunities to co-author publications.

In Summer 2024, all team members will have the opportunity to perform field trials in Durham for 4-5 hours each day. One graduate student will perform a field data collection session in Sri Lanka for 2-3 weeks in June-July. This student will enhance their hands-on experience in collecting in-situ heat stress data in an immersive experience in a tropical environment undergoing rapid environmental change. 


Summer 2024 – Summer 2025

  • Summer 2024 (optional): Complete installation of data loggers; visit field sites in Sri Lanka; perform data collection; coordinate with medical professionals
  • Fall 2024: Validate data; develop methods for identifying heat stress changes; develop project database
  • Spring 2025: Write report and manuscript; present research findings
  • Summer 2025 (optional): Visit field sites in Sri Lanka


Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding available


Image: Rice farming in Sri Lanka, by Sanjini de Silva/IWMI, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Image: Rice farming in Sri Lanka, by Sanjini de Silva/IWMI, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Team Leaders

  • Akila Harishchandra Kanahera Arachchige Don, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy
  • Nishad Jayasundara, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Mangala De Silva, University of Ruhuna Department of Zoology
  • Sameera Gunasekara, Theme Institute - Sri Lanka