Tackling urban overheating

Modelling and monitoring studies have revealed how temperature patterns vary across cities. The research has also provided new scientific evidence about what causes such patterns and how high temperatures can be effectively managed to avoid some of the worst impacts on urban communities. Urban planners now use our researchers’ recommendations in their climate change adaptation strategies and green infrastructure plans.

Geographers provide evidence to support the process of developing greenspace strategies to counteract the rising risk of heat-wave events in cities

A bird flying across an urban landscape with the sun blazing in the background. 3 degrees is overlaid in text.
3oC is the excess temperature generated by ‘heat islands’ in Manchester, during a typical summer’s day.

Towns and cities are uniquely vulnerable to extreme weather events, from heatwaves to flooding. By conducting monitoring and modelling, researchers from Geography’s Environmental Processes Research Group have collaborated, across the University of Manchester, to find new ways to understand and react to the risks facing urban neighbourhoods as climate change continues to affect weather patterns.

Providing new city-specific data, and related conclusions – especially explicit evidence of the role of vegetation in moderating temperatures – the research has helped urban planners and government departments to develop strategies that will make cities less vulnerable to extreme weather. The research has, for example, supported:

  • Climate change adaptation policies and strategies for the Welsh and Scottish Assemblies;
  • Adaptation plans for 11 European municipalities using a adaptation toolkit built in collaboration with practitioners;
  • An improved understanding of the role of greenspace for sustainable urban development in 5 African cities including direct input into the Addis Ababa Master Plan and a ‘how to guide’ for practitioners in other African urban areas;
  • A range of local plans, including for example the Town centre energy management strategies for Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council, Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council’s climate change strategy and Manchester City Council’s work towards its Green Infrastructure Plan;
  • The UK Government’s Climate Change Risk Assessment (2012), along with the work of the Climate Change Adaptation sub-committee;
  • Guidance documents, such as the Town and Country Planning Association’s Climate Change Adaptation by Design (2007)

The specific categorisation of different urban neighbourhoods and ‘heat islands’ has been provided to local authorities, consultants and groups including Natural England and the Environment Agency. The work carried out in Manchester has inspired other knowledge exchange projects, such as that between Birmingham University and its City Council.

Our research

Urban cityscape with green space in the foreground. '10%' is overlaid in text.
A 10% increase in urban green space could keep surface temperatures (during a heatwave in the 2080s) at or below those seen in recent heatwaves.

Using Greater Manchester as a model, a multidisciplinary research team analysed urban form and function, its relationships with temperature patterns and the contribution of man-made sources of heat. Their work – which has since been applied to cities across Europe and the African continent - produced:

  • Characterisations of urban neighbourhoods through urban morphology types – creating a geographical framework for analysis, assessment and planning
  • A framework for exploring a combination of hazard, vulnerability and exposure, including local social vulnerability to heart and flood in the UK
  • A demonstration that increasing green space within an urban area by just 10% could markedly reduce the extremes in surface temperatures expected during future heatwaves and instead restrict them to levels seen in the recent past
  • A set of methods, tools and resources for urban planners through which adaptation options can be assessed

Over the past decade this work has been carried out within several collaborative, multidisciplinary projects, follow the links to visit their websites and find out more:

Key people

  • Dr Sarah Lindley
  • Nigel Lawson
  • Professor John Handley (Emeritus)
  • Professor John O'Neill (School of Social Sciences)
  • Professor Geoff Levermore (Emeritus, School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering)
  • Dr Claire Smith (University of Leicester)
  • Dr Gina Cavan (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Further information