Mitigating urban heat island effects through the intelligent use of sustainable materials

Project Summary

Urban densification is the phenomenon of increasing the number or occupancy of structures in urban areas without increasing their footprint. This is a particular phenomenon in rapidly expanding cities, where dwellings in suburban areas may be replaced with duplex houses or low-rise apartment blocks to meet the housing demand. Densification reduces the amount of shade and green or free space per structure, whilst also increasing the amount of paved surface area. The result of this is an urban “heat island”: regions of increased temperature due to occupancy. Depending on the region, increased heat can increase the air conditioning requirements, which in turn create more heat and so the start of a vicious cycle.

This project will examine the opportunities to mitigate urban heat island effects in hot climates through the use of thermally massive, low embodied energy building materials. Such materials have been shown to absorb excess heat, and so may buffer heat island effects whilst simultaneously reducing overall air conditioning demands. The effect of adopting these materials will be examined via dwelling energy simulation and neighbourhood scale urban microclimate simulation. The multiscale challenge will be met by combining state-of-the-art urban microclimate and human thermal comfort modelling (ENVI-MET), structure energy use simulation (EnergyPlus), and real-world climate data capture, sensing, and monitoring. Working with industry and local government partners, project findings will modify construction practices in urbanising areas to counter urban heat island phenomena effectively.

Project Team and where the student will be based

Dr Qunshan Zhao’s (University of Glasgow) research interest focuses on creating a sustainable urban future and tackling related social, economic, and environment problems by using new forms of urban big data and advanced analytical approaches including GIScience (geographic information systems, remote sensing and spatial analysis), machine learning/statistics, operations research, sensor networks, and urban climate modelling and instrumentation.

Dr Chris Beckett’s (University of Edinburgh) research interests are the experimental (geotechnical and structural) characterisation of stabilised and unstabilised unsaturated soils used as construction materials; geotechnical characterisation of agricultural soil constraints (compaction and water repellency); and the promotion of low embodied energy building materials for construction. He has also focused on centrifugal scale modelling used to examine the behaviour of mine tailings.

The PhD student would be based primarily in the Urban Big Data Centre (UBDC), part of the Urban Studies Group within the School of Social & Political Sciences in The University of Glasgow. They will also be a part of the Institute of Infrastructure and Environment (IIE), part of the School of Engineering at The University of Edinburgh.

The Urban Big Data Centre is an ESRC-funded research centre and national data service. UBDC promotes the use of big data and innovative research methods to improve social, economic and environmental well-being in cities. The Centre publishes world-leading research in the social sciences and other disciplines that is distinguished by its critical engagement with debates about new forms of data (big data) and data-driven urban analytics. The data service enhances the quality and accessibility of urban big data, and the methods for urban analytics, supporting a wide range of applications and users. Through its research and our data service, UBDC delivers a wide range of positive impacts on society, the economy and the environment. It works closely with a wide range of government, industry and third sector partners to ensure a proper understanding of the challenges they face and to identify opportunities for its work to influence policy and practice.

Urban Studies is an internationally-leading centre for urban research. It was rated joint-first in the last Research Excellence Framework (REF) exercise within its Unit of Assessment (Architecture and the Built Environment). It comprises an academic group of around 35 urban scholars from multiple disciplines. In addition to UBDC, there are two further major research centres: the ESRC-funded CaCHE (the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence) and GCRF-funded SHLC (the Centre for Sustainable, Health and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods). The department has a vibrant research culture, with regular internal and external seminar series and thematic research groups which bring early, mid and late-career staff together with PhD students. There is an extensive community of early-career scholars as well as the next generation being developed through the PhD programme. There is a very vibrant programme of Masters teaching, much of it validated by one of three different professional bodies, ensuring close engagement with professional practice and policy.

The School of Engineering at The University of Edinburgh was ranked first in UK Engineering, having achieved the highest Research Power of any UK engineering submission to any Research Excellence Framework (REF) panel. Within the School, IIE carries out research on a diverse range of topics contributing to efficient, sustainable and resilient infrastructure in the built and natural environments. Research is aimed at promoting the wellbeing of humanity in the face of contemporary and anticipated challenges to urban infrastructure and the natural environment, such as security of infrastructure and communities from natural and anthropogenic hazards; improving industrial infrastructure for dealing with bulk solids; and assessment, monitoring and improvement of transport infrastructure. Our work spans from understanding the fundamental behaviour of materials, structures and processes at the smallest scales to the full design scale including simulation and modelling at all relevant scales.

All the existing research network and activities will be extremely helpful for enhancing the research programme and career development of the applicant.

Qualifications/Skill/Experience

  • Academic qualifications – A Masters Degree at 2:1 level or above in either Civil Engineering (or a related discipline), Mathematics or Urban Analytics.
  • Experience – Experience of prior urban modelling is desirable but not essential.
  • Skills/Attributes –Skills in the use of programmable software (e.g. Python, R or MatLab) for data analysis are essential. Skills in the use of climate or energy simulation modelling are desirable but not essential.

Enquiries

Enquiries about this project should be directed to Dr Chris Beckettchristopher.beckett@ed.ac.uk.