Wet nature as airco for the city

I find it of paramount importance that students learn how to communicate their research. Summarizing their ideas and findings for a broad audience challenges them to keep the ‘why’ in mind for their research, and reminds them they are part of a bigger effort to solve the remaining mysteries of our world. In this mini series, all master students of this academic year present their work in around 300 words. Second: Amber Pirée!

Most of us in Belgium will remember the past summer’s weather as outright miserable. The debilitating heatwaves and problematic water shortages of the summers of 2018, 2019, and 2020 may have already started slipping our minds. Yet such heatwaves and droughts, interspersed with periods of extreme rainfall and flooding, are predicted to become the new normal. During the sweltering days and nights in a heatwave period, we often seek coolness from air conditioning, take more refreshing showers or install swimming pools for children to play in. Our gardens and arable lands are being watered more often to keep plants from withering. As important as refreshing is on such days for our health, it is accompanied by high economic and climate costs.

Another well-known way to escape some of those high temperatures in the city, is seeking shelter in nature. We experience that urban areas get warmer than rural areas, because cities, with their paved surfaces and dark materials such as asphalt and concrete, retain heat longer. In Belgium, 98% of us live in these urbanized areas, making it important to investigate how we can bring more of that countryside refreshment into the city. Therefore, almost 5 000 participants of the ‘CurieuzeNeuzen in de Tuin’ citizen science project placed small weather stations (affectionally called ‘lawn daggers’) in their gardens. Additionally, we installed a network of these sensors across nature reserves.

‘Lawn dagger’ @Bart.vdsm

This generates a unique dataset of microclimate data on soil temperature and soil moisture for the whole of Flanders. In this strand of the ‘CurieuzeNeuzen in de Tuin’ project, we ask ourselves: are these nature reserves cooler than urban gardens? And how far into the city does the influence of natures’ natural airco’s reach? More specifically, we will look at the influence of the amount of paved surfaces, forest or grassland, water elements, and agriculture on local temperatures. The ultimate goal? Quantifying the buffering impact of nature and green spaces on microclimate – and thus the quality of life for humans and nature – in a highly urbanized region.  

Temperatures in the city center of Antwerp during the night of June 15 were up to 9 °C higher than in the surroundings. Figure made by De Standaard.
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