Augusta “Gussie” Williams ’13, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, delivered a presentation on her current research exploring the influence of the built environment on human exposure to extreme heat, and public health and societal impacts of these exposures.
During her visit to the HWS campus on Monday, Oct. 1, Williams met with student and faculty interested in public health. She specifically met with students in GEO 360: Applied Climatology to discuss a variety of topics related to the influences of weather/climate on public health in connection with semester-long research that GEO 360 students are conducting in this area.
Later Williams gave a public lecture in the Geneva Room of the Warren Hunting Smith Library. The talk, as Williams’ abstract notes, highlighted “field research document[ing] indoor heat waves in elderly public housing in Cambridge, Mass., and the impact of extreme heat on crime and emergency services.”
“Heat waves are the leading cause of mortality among all meteorological phenomena, and are associated with increased morbidity related to cardiovascular, respiratory, renal and diabetic disease, as well as impairments in cognitive function, sleep and productivity. In the Northeast United States, it is expected future heat waves are likely to increase in frequency, duration and intensity,” Williams’ abstract explains.
She goes on to argue that improving the public’s awareness and response to heat waves will become increasingly important, as buildings have not typically been designed to protect occupants from increasingly high indoor temperatures during heat waves. The built environment, which plays “a crucial role in either mitigating or exacerbating extreme heat exposures,” is relatively unexamined regarding the relationship between “extreme heat events and resulting morbidity and mortality at fine spatial and temporal scales.”
The results of Williams’ research could help improve strategies for “sustainable, equitable and targeted adaptation strategies” to protect public health at the local level.
Working at the intersection of climate change and public health for more than six years, Williams earned her B.S. in biology and geoscience from William Smith with a focus in atmospheric science. In 2015, she completed her Master of Public Health degree with a concentration in climate and health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
Funding for the event was provided by the Office of Faculty and Academic Affairs.