20 February 2013 — Melbourne and Monash university scientists are using thermal imaging to work out how green infrastructure can be used to reduce the severe temperatures in cities.

The researchers are trying to establish how street trees, parks, green roofs and green facades can interact with urban design to reduce temperatures in cities.

The researchers have used thermal imaging and mobile weather stations during summer extreme heat events to identify some of Melbourne’s “hot spots” and compare these with temperatures from areas with abundant green infrastructure such as Royal Park.

This information will be used to produce a guide with collaborators at RMIT, to demonstrate which types of green infrastructure should be installed on streets with different orientations, widths and building heights to best reduce surface temperatures.

University of Melbourne School of Land and Environment researcher Nick Williams said higher temperatures in cities were a huge concern for society, particularly vulnerable members such as the elderly, and would only increase with climate change.

“Plants are attractive, natural airconditioners so we should be using them more to cool cities,” Dr Williams said.

“As well as providing shade, plants also cool cities by evaporating water through their leaves into the atmosphere.

“Irrigating green infrastructure with the abundant storm water found in our cities will increase its cooling ability and use water that would otherwise go down the drain.”

Monash University’s Andrew Coutts said while the research demonstrated the benefits of increasing green infrastructure,  not enough was known about what would work best in Australian cities, or how best to design green infrastructure into urban areas.

“By using airborne thermal mapping and combining it with on-ground measurements, we can produce a good spatial picture of surface temperatures across the urban landscape,” Dr Coutts said.

“This will allow us to assess which areas are cooler than others and how vegetation might be helping.

“The final step is to look at what features of urban greening work best to reduce heat in urban Melbourne.”