Archives for June 6, 2023

Data, Heat and Parks: DSI Funded Researchers explore the Connection

Hotter days in Toronto mean more people flocking to parks for relief, but just how are these green spaces being utilized during extreme heat? University of Toronto researchers, who were awarded the Data Access Grant by the Data Sciences Institute, are analyzing patterns of human activity, park usage and air temperatures to shed light on the impact of extreme heat and climate patterns on the health and well-being of Toronto residents. 

The research team, led by Professors Scott MacIvor, Department of Biological Sciences (University of Toronto Scarborough) and Marie-Josee Fortin, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (Faculty of Arts & Science), is working closely with Dr. Alessandro Filazzola, a Data Scientist at ApexRMS, as well as the City of Toronto Parks Forestry and Recreation and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. With the support of the DSI Data Access Grant, the team has successfully accessed Mapbox data, which provides anonymized information on smart device locations. This data enables them to establish correlations between human activity in parks and climate conditions. 

According to Danny Brown, Project Officer at the Parks, Forestry & Recreation (PFR) of the City of Toronto, urban park systems play a crucial role in providing refuge from heat waves for vulnerable residents, absorbing stormwater, mitigating overland flooding, sequestering carbon, creating habitat, and hosting a variety of facilities and programs that strengthen community ties.  

However, the lack of effective methods to quantify human activity in parks has impeded our understanding of how park usage changes during extreme heat events. The researchers aim to evaluate park usage in relation to climate patterns and demographics. By using Mapbox movement data, they determine the effects of climate on urban park activity, relate park use to demographics of city residents (including income, housing characteristics, and population density), and predict patterns of park use under extreme climate scenarios. This work will help to inform strategies and interventions to mitigate potential risks and enhance the overall resilience of the community. 

The researchers are combining patterns of park activity with daily weather patterns for the 34 largest parks in the City of Toronto. By examining the correlations between park activity, daily weather patterns and climate conditions, they have made promising initial findings. “Air temperatures and precipitation have shown connections with park activity, although these patterns are specific to individual parks. Some parks experience increased activity during warmer temperatures, while others exhibit reduced activity. Further analysis is needed to unravel these idiosyncratic patterns,” says Dr. Filazzola. 

Beyond analyzing park activity and climate change impacts, the researchers aim to quantify human-wildlife interactions, predict changes in park activity due to land use changes, assess socio-demographic disparities in park accessibility, inform park management decisions, and monitor biodiversity. In collaboration with Environment and Climate Change Canada, the team plans to investigate how bird populations respond to human activity in Montreal parks, further expanding the scope of their research. “The overall collaboration on this research combines the expertise of data scientists knowledgeable of using anonymized mobility data with academic knowledge and practical applications of the results. Mapbox has also been a contributing partner that has assisted in the success of the project,” says Dr. Filazzola. 

Danny Brown expresses excitement about collaborating with the Data Sciences Institute researchers and leveraging data about the city’s parkland to better understand its functional relationship with Toronto’s diverse communities. “Collaborating with the great minds at the University of Toronto has sparked new and exciting ways of leveraging data about the city’s parkland to better understand its functional relationship with, and importance to, Toronto’s diverse communities. The City looks forward to further partnerships with the academic community to continue to build a resilient, welcoming, and innovative Toronto.”   

“The Data Access Grant from the Data Sciences Institute was vital in our acquisition of anonymized mobility data for conducting this analysis,” emphasizes the team. Anonymized data from smart devices is a relatively new data product primarily used for commercial applications or vehicle tracking. The DSI grant was also instrumental in us obtaining larger funds to do the work that brought the partners together.” 

Banner photo by Wei Fang/Getty images

DSI welcomes the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research as a new funding partner

The Data Sciences Institute (DSI) is excited to announce a new partnership with the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR), a collaborative research institute that conducts and enables high-impact translational cancer research.  

OICR conducts cross-disciplinary cancer research in areas such as genomics, immuno-oncology, informatics, computational biology, genome informatics, implementation science, drug discovery, and molecular pathology while facilitating global research collaboration, securely sharing data, and providing powerful, world-class tools and resources to the research community. 

Our collaborative approach, both locally and globally, ensures that Ontario remains at the forefront of cancer research and care. With a shared commitment to maximizing the health and economic benefit of our research for the people of Ontario, this partnership with DSI holds tremendous potential to drive breakthroughs in cancer research that can bring real benefits to those affected by cancer, said Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi, President and Scientific Director, OICR. 

DSI collaborates with organizations eager to support world-class researchers, educators, and trainees advancing data sciences. We facilitate inclusive research connections, supporting foundational research in data science, as well as supporting the training of a diverse group of highly qualified personnel for their success in interdisciplinary environments.  

As one of the DSI external funding partners, OICR researchers with an appointment at the University of Toronto can apply for research grants, supports and training and lead initiatives at the DSI.  

We are very excited to have the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research join our growing DSI community. Our goal is to create a hub to elevate data science research, training, and partnerships. By connecting and supporting data science researchers, the DSI advances research and nurtures the next generation of data- and computationally focused researchers, says Lisa Strug, Director, Data Sciences Institute. 

Read the announcement by the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR): New funding partnership with U of T Data Sciences Institute aims to drive new breakthroughs