Intergeo 2010 – Cooling off: Towns and cities need a break from the heat

Karlsruhe, 21 July 2010. By the middle of the month it was already looking like July 2010 was set to be Germany’s hottest July since records began. In towns and cities in particular, it has stopped cooling down overnight, with tropical temperatures of over 25 degrees Celsius virtually ruling out a good night’s sleep. The extra strain such conditions place on the human body has also led to a 50 percent increase in deaths. Climate researchers are already talking about an "invisible natural disaster". In an interview with ZDFonline, climatologist Prof. Wilfried Endlicher described how significant the phenomenon of the "urban heat island" can become during summer heatwaves. "On days when there is little cloud, the temperature in Berlin, for example, can be between ten and eleven degrees Celsius higher than in the surrounding countryside. Averaged out over the year, the difference is usually around three degrees – on hot summer nights it can be more than three times that." Prof. Endlicher believes that towns and cities need to help lower the temperature with long-term building strategies such as harnessing shade from parks and avenues and using specific arrangements of open spaces. "A network of cold air corridors can protect a city centre from overheating and intelligent urban planning can prevent building on these ‘air ways’. Towns and cities that have focused on real estate construction are now suffering from a lack of air," confirms Prof. Martina Klärle, Professor for Land Management at Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences.

In order to find the right structures for this intelligent urban planning, a range of tools are being deployed such as 3D urban models. These models also depict the volume of buildings, which enables urban planners, architects and environmental experts to study both microclimate issues and the distribution of pollutants. High-resolution 3D models also enable experts to calculate areas of glazing and, to a certain extent, draw conclusions on the construction materials used. The potential offered by these 3D urban models will be on show at INTERGEO from 5 to 7 October 2010 in Cologne. "The world’s largest trade fair and conference for geodesy, geoinformation and land management is being held under the motto ‘Knowledge and action for planet Earth’ and is therefore also tackling the challenges of climate change in urban centres," explains Olaf Freier, CEO of HINTE GmbH and organiser of INTERGEO, adding: "Large-scale 3D models can be used to extremely good effect when investigating, simulating and depicting climate issues and environmental influences. Even greater potential will be unlocked by a global, digital elevation model that is accurate to up to two meters, such as that being compiled over the next five years by the German TerraSAR-X Earth observation satellite and the recently launched TanDEM-X. Oceanographers, hydrologists and climate researchers will be able to use this to further improve existing models and methods." Freier has announced that the first results will be presented at the INTERGEO conference and that exhibitors will be showing recording equipment, image material and software that is used, among other things, to generate visual results.

Dr. Wolfgang Steinborn from the DLR (German Aerospace Centre) describes another key aspect: "Geoinformation technology offers processes that span a growing number of levels and enable experts to switch between global and local levels when tackling problems. For instance, satellite images cover the wider context and allow experts to zero in on priority areas, which significantly reduces the outlay involved in taking on-site measurements. New, standardised products from the European GMES initiative for environmental and security monitoring such as the ‘Urban Atlas’ support the assessment of building policies in an international context and help to eliminate errors." For example, the Atlas – which is made up of thousands of satellite images – provides detailed digital maps showing land usage and ground coverage in urban centres. Steinborn: "The ‘Urban Atlas’, which will map all the EU’s large urban centres and their surrounding areas by 2011, will enable urban planners to get a better handle on the impact of climate change and to mitigate its consequences."