Using Copernicus data to climate-proof cities

26 August 2022
Copernicus data is essential for measuring the urban heat vulnerability
Copernicus data is essential for measuring the urban heat vulnerability

Over half of the world’s 8 billion people live in cities, a number that is expected to increase by over 70% in the coming decades. This is concerning because, just as the world’s urban population continues to increase, so too does the world’s average temperature – setting the stage for a potential catastrophe.

That’s because with this increase in temperature comes more frequent and extreme heat events which, due to the urban heat island phenomena, make cities particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change. It also puts urban populations at a greater risk for suffering the sweltering and potentially deadly effects of heatwaves – a fact has been abundantly clear this summer. According to the Copernicus Climate Change Service’s (C3S) July Climate Bulletin, many parts of Europe, including Spain, Portugal, France and the UK, experienced intense heat, if not record-breaking high temperatures, during the month of July.  

All of this means city planners are facing a sense of urgency for finding new ways to keep cities cool. As discussed in a recent article, one potential solution is to use the data generated by C3S to reconsider the layout of cities in an effort to mitigate heat-related risks.  

One company doing exactly that is ECOTEN urban comfort.

Mapping high vulnerability areas 

The Prague-based company is taking a data-driven approach to designing greener, cooler and healthier cities. “By integrating science, data and technology into urban planning, we help make cities more resilient against the impact of climate change,” says ECOTEN co-founder and CEO Jiri Tencar. 

Much of ECOTEN’s data comes from Earth Observation, including the Copernicus Programme. “Copernicus data is essential for measuring the urban heat vulnerability of a city as it provides high resolution information that can be uniformly obtained for any city in the world,” explains ECOTEN co-founder and CTO Sagnik Bhattacharjee.

By combining this Earth Observation data with available socio-demographic data, the company creates Urban Heat Vulnerability Maps. “These high-resolution maps provide city planners and other authorities with a real-time analysis of extreme heat vulnerability in a given urban area,” remarks Tencar. “Having ready-access to this information allows city officials to take immediate steps to protect citizens and infrastructure from a forecasted heatwave.” 

Vienna maps a cooler future    

In addition to helping city planners react to immediate heat threats, ECOTEN’s innovative heat mapping is also being used to mitigate future risks. For example, the company partnered with the city of Vienna to map the vulnerability of each of the city’s electoral districts. 

What these maps revealed was that several heavily populated areas have an urban heat vulnerability index (UHVI) value of 0.9 on a scale where 1.0 implies a high vulnerability to an extreme heat event. The map also identified 10 ‘hot spots’, including areas with little to no green space or areas with a large concentration of young children and/or older adults, both of whom are at risk populations. 

“For the first time, we have a map that shows us where cooling is urgent and allows us to take specific measures,” said Birgit Hebein, the former deputy mayor of Vienna.

City planners can now use this map, which was made possible thanks to Copernicus data, to adapt their urban planning to the realities of a warmer climate. In fact, the ECOTEN map is behind the city’s Cool Street project, an initiative that aims to turn down the heat at street level by, for example, planting more trees and reducing traffic.    

Prague cools down its transport hotspots    

Following the success in Austria, ECOTEN was soon contacted by the Environmental Protection Department of the City of Prague, who wanted to map the urban heat vulnerability of the city’s public transport stops. To create such a map, the company once again turned to Copernicus data, this time combining it with data on passenger wait times.

“This combination allowed us to create a tool that Prague can use to easily identify the specific areas that need attention and take steps to make these stops more comfortable for passengers,” says Bhattacharjee.  

Using the ECOTEN provided heat map, the city has taken numerous steps to cool down hotspots. For example, a green lawn was planted on the roof of a tram stop, while draught-resistant plants, grasses and rock gardens have been placed across Prague. The city also installed misting devices and drinking fountains.

“The Urban Heat Vulnerability Map has already proved to be an important tool for making Prague and Vienna more resilient to climate change, and we look forward to adding more cities to this list soon,” concludes Tencar.

Other European cities confirmed this approach as being useful and efficient as ECOTEN urban comfort is now working on developing an Urban Heat Vulnerability Map of Helsinki, Finland.


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Updated: Dec 08, 2022