Simulating cities to survive climate change

23-11-2023 | Posted by Principia

islas de calor urbanas

We are heading for the worse. High temperatures characterized the summer of 2023, and a series of climatic phenomena reminded us that human influence is not going unnoticed in the climate.

In this November, the Smart City Expo World Congress is taking place in Barcelona, where global experts gather with the intention of finding solutions to the main problems of urban areas to improve their sustainability, both human and environmental. City temperatures are a globally concerning issue given the extremes observed in recent years.

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) refers to the areas within cities experiencing higher temperatures than the surrounding areas as “heat islands”. The phenomenon is due to buildings, pavements, and other structures absorbing and then re-emitting the sun’s heat. The concentration of urban developments and the absence of vegetation give rise to these “islands” of elevated temperatures

Several factors contribute to the generation of these areas. One factor is the lack of green spaces that could mitigate the effects through humidity, shade, and, in general, their ability to cool the air. Many materials used in urban environments, such as pavements or roofs, reflect less solar energy, absorbing and re-emitting more heat than trees, vegetation, and other natural surfaces. Heat islands intensify after sunset as urban materials gradually release the absorbed heat.

The city’s layout is another relevant factor in the concentration of urban heat. The spacing between buildings influences airflow, and surfaces and structures become significant thermal masses. Cities with narrow streets and tall buildings impede the natural flow of air.

Human activities are another contributing factor. Vehicles, electrical appliances, etc., all emit heat into the atmosphere. Although essential in urban life in the 21st century, solutions need to be designed, as their sustainability requires a collaborative approach to planning and citizen involvement.

The good news is that all these elements are modifiable with good urban design and efficient resource planning.

Simulation allows analysing the impact and consequences of any changes in urban planning. Through the Dassault Systèmes 3DEXPERIENCE platform, virtual twin experiences of infrastructure and cities are created. The dynamic and continuously evolving virtual twin provides data at all levels, even at the street level. Heat island detection helps determine the optimal urban location for green spaces and can even, for example, recommend the ideal tree species to plant. Additionally, virtual twins can suggest ways to adapt existing infrastructure to address the challenges of climate change and manage heat islands with sustainable measures that maintain the viability of urban spaces. 

The collaborative 3DEXPERIENCE platform allows Smart Cities to consider and assess everything from flood risks to accessibility, transportation, land use, the location of key urban assets, as well as water, heating, sewage, and other infrastructure networks.

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