Preparing for climate change: geospatial services for Europe's cities
It's hard to map a path forward if you don't understand the lie of the land. City planners concerned with the implications of climate change thus need detailed information on the districts within their remit. New services developed by EU-funded researchers are available to support them with intelligence notably derived from Earth observation and open data.
© Andrey Armyagov - fotolia.com
The Decumanus project focused on ways of exploiting data from satellites, ground-based sensors and other sources to inform the measures cities take in order to mitigate climate change or prepare for its effects. We wanted to supply environmental managers with input that would once have been impossible to obtain, says the projects technical manager, Julia Pecci-López, of consulting and technology company Indra in Madrid.
To do so, we combined data from different sources, exploiting collections that already existed to derive new information, Pecci-López explains. Decumanus applied this approach for urban indicators in seven areas central to city development: air quality, energy efficiency, land use, population variations, public health, urban climate, water.
In total, she notes, the project addressed about 90 indicators, achieving an unprecedented level of detail. Specific information can be produced for every street and building in the city.
We have a lot of information these days, says Pecci-López. Earth observation is delivering vast amounts of data, and more figures are available from a wide variety of other sources. But this abundant resource has not yet been fully exploited, she notes.
Decumanus looked into ways of extracting new information from this material. To do so, you do of course need to be good with data, and you need to be good with technology, says Pecci-López. But, first and foremost, she adds, you need the ideas. Creativity and a thorough understanding of the topic are needed to envision which data, in which combinations, might offer fresh insights for administrations, businesses, citizens and other interested parties.
Decumanus developed two types of service in its seven areas of interest. The standard version, which mobilises readily accessible data from the internet, can be offered free of charge, Pecci-López explains.
Premium versions are available as a commercial service. They draw on locally sourced data, along with the public information that underpins the basic product, and offer additional features. They are also more detailed.
Authorities keen to improve their citys energy efficiency can, for example, use the basic service to identify neighbourhoods with high energy losses from roofs. They can also use the maps to monitor light emissions. The resulting insights can then be used to inform retrofitting programmes.
The premium service details this survey with particular precision: light emissions and areas of excessive heat loss are pinpointed in very high resolution. It also conveys information on the photovoltaic potential of individual buildings, providing valuable input for campaigns encouraging citizens to improve their roof insulation or install solar panels. Another potential application is the assessment of a citys street lights, which can yield leads for energy savings.
Features available in the other thematic areas notably include maps identifying existing and potential green roofs, charting the canopy and every individual tree in the city, or tracing the growth of built-up areas and the extent of impervious surfaces (those that rain cannot penetrate). The projects urban climate atlas, which notably covers aspects such as total precipitation, temperature and energy fluxes, presents the likely evolution of these variables for Europes cities.
Services such as these enable city planners to refine their adaptation and mitigation strategies, and Decumanus can also help authorities prepare for floods or other disasters potentially caused by climate change. The partners population variation service takes account of the shifting distribution of residents during the day, and it also factors in commuters. Based on this information, the team can produce assessments of the populations potential exposure to catastrophic events, or to long-term developments such as deteriorating air quality.
Decumanus services are, however, not only of interest to urban planning departments. A system pinpointing where green roofs or solar panels would produce the best effects also provides useful input for the businesses specialising in such installations, for example. And many other companies such as insurance companies need to factor the implications of climate change into their own longer-term plans and projections.
Involving the private sector in the prevention and mitigation of climate change impacts makes sense all round, Pecci-López concludes. It can improve the outcomes, it can generate income, and it can create employment, making this cooperation a win-win proposition.