ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – If you’ve spent anytime in Albuquerque during the warm season, you’ve probably found yourself accidently stepping on hot concrete at least once, only to quickly run for some shade. Or maybe you’ve told your kids they can’t use the plastic slide at the park because it might burn their legs. Some might say “that’s just desert life,” but others insist it doesn’t have to be that way.

Looking to break up Albuquerque’s massive concrete and asphalt heat sinks, city officials say they’ll start work planting as many as 100,000 trees starting this summer. As to where those trees will go is now, in part, a question for the nation’s premiere space agency, NASA.

At a news conference Thursday, the city announced the new partnership with NASA’s DEVELOP program, which will help investigate so-called “strategic tree canopy development” that’s slated to take part in the coming months. In other words, the project is expected to help map out where trees could addresses some of the hottest temperatures in the city, using satellite data and more.

“Heat islands” have been on the city’s radar since 2021, when volunteers helped researchers map out temperatures in the city on a single day in July. The study found parts of Albuquerque saw as much as a 17 degree temperature differential at the same time of day, depending on how much pavement was around. The heat mapping study found the hottest temperatures in downtown and neighborhoods adjacent to the interstate highways, areas that are often devoid of trees.

The 100,000 new tree goal is something Albuquerque city officials hope to achieve over the next eight years, by 2030. The city is tracking interest in tree planting through the website letsplantabq.org. Thursday, the city mentioned initial tree planting opportunities near Wilson Middle School by San Pedro and Gibson in southeast Albuquerque.

Speaking of the tree planting effort Thursday, Mayor Tim Keller emphasized that the city is “all in on trees,” noting that the push to xeriscape mistakenly eliminated shade canopies from wide swaths of westside neighborhoods developed over the last decade or more.

“We took all our grass out, and that’s a good thing, because the grass takes so much water, but we also took our trees out,” Keller said. While noting the city also did successfully conserve water, Keller also said the city sacrificed much more. “We sacrificed the shade cover and the temperature aspects of trees,” he said.

In Albuquerque’s case, the NASA project is expected to build an “interactive tree map” that should be able to model the potential impacts of future tree plantings in neighborhoods and their impact in cutting temperatures. NASA’s DEVELOP project has done similar heat mitigation work in Tempe, Arizona. Another recent project in Richmond, California helped outline places for 22,000 tree plantings in the area.

Outside of the NASA project, the city says it is also exploring the use of “cool pavement technology.” According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, that’s the use of paving materials that reflect more solar energy, enhance water evaporation, or have been otherwise modified to remain cooler than conventional pavements. The EPA says conventional paving materials can reach peak summertime temperatures of 120 to 150°F.

Public health is central to the tree planting goal. Heidi Krapfl of New Mexico Department of Health spoke to the issue during Thursday’s news conference, highlighting an increased number of heat exhaustion and heat stroke cases over recent years.

“Projections show temperature is going to increase in New Mexico regardless of the emissions scenario,” Krapfl said. “Given that, there’s going to be an increase in extreme heat events, the duration and the intensity, so there’s just going to be longer heat seasons.”