GeoinformaticsWhen It’s Too Hot in the City

25 October 2021

Baden-Württemberg Foundation promotes Heidelberg research project involving routing service to avoid local heat stress

Where in Heidelberg is it particularly hot and how does local heat stress affect at-risk groups? This question is being addressed by a research project involving the Geoinformatics Research Group and the TdLab Geography of the Institute of Geography of Heidelberg University, and the Heidelberg Institute for Geoinformation Technology, along with various other cooperation partners. The aim is to identify heat stress areas in the city based on sensor data and to use this data to calculate routes that are cooler and shadier. The project is intended to support those who are particularly heat-sensitive. The Baden-Württemberg Foundation is funding the project with approximately 630,000 euros for a period of three years.

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    University Square
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    Aerial view of Heidelberg's old town
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    Playground in the Bahnstadt district of Heidelberg
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    Children on a playground
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    Elderly man

Extreme heat events due to climate change are increasing in cities, with population density, surface sealing, and sparse greenery further contributing to heat stress conditions. Scientists note that especially the elderly, people with pre-existing medical conditions, and young children are exposed to heat-related health risks. “Increasing heat stress is perceptible and measurable in Heidelberg as well,” explains Dr Nicole Aeschbach, head of TdLab Geography, a laboratory for transdisciplinary research. “Against this backdrop, the development of adaptation concepts and protective strategies is urgently needed. In addition to aspects of city planning, individual strategies adapted to target group needs are also important to ensure everyday life and mobility in the city even when temperatures increase,” explains Prof. Dr Alexander Zipf, geoinformation scientist at Heidelberg University and director of the Heidelberg Institute for Geoinformation Technology (HeiGIT), which is funded by the Klaus Tschira Foundation.

In cooperation with Digital-Agentur Heidelberg and other external partners, the “Heat Adaptation for Vulnerable Population Groups (HEAL)” project will identify and model areas of increased heat stress based on real-time sensor data. This sensor data and existing climate analysis maps will help the scientists develop statistical prediction models to then be fed into a “heat-stress-avoiding routing” application. It will calculate the route between two points with the least amount of direct sun and heat stress. For the duration of the project and beyond, the routing service will be available via an app during practical testing as well as in the form of analogue informational materials and maps.

“In this way, the knowledge base on the effects of heat events on risk groups will be expanded for the Heidelberg area, individual adaptation strategies will be explored, and administrative measures will be developed together with the city administration,” explains Dr Kathrin Foshag, co-initiator of the research project alongside Johannes Fürle and others. The Heidelberg Office of Environmental Protection, Trade Supervision and Energy is the project’s cooperation partner at the city level. Other participants include the Academy for the Elderly (Akademie für Ältere Heidelberg) as well as various senior citizens’ clubs and family associations. The project launched in June of this year. The app-based routing service is expected to be ready for use in three years. The Baden-Württemberg Foundation is funding the project as part of its “Innovations for Adaptation to Climate Change” programme.