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CME and ROC van Twente join forces to make our cities cooler by Monica Pena, researcher at the UT

CME and ROC van Twente Join Forces to Make Our Cities Cooler


(a)     Urban Atlanta, USA. Nighttime thermal satellite imagery.

Image courtesy of NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio


Have you ever noticed that the temperature in the inner cities is slightly higher than in the surrounding areas? Higher rates of human activities, modification of natural surfaces, and waste heat are among the causes of this effect, which is known as Urban Heat Island (UHI). One of the biggest contributors to this phenomenon, as clearly shown in the figures above, is the paved roads. These, mostly dark, surfaces retain solar radiation in the morning and release it at night. While much is known about the impact of dark colors on UHI, there is very little knowledge about the extent to which other characteristics of the road play a role here.

Monica Pena, a Ph.D. researcher at UT’s Construction Management and Engineering (CME) department, embraced the challenge to delve into this topic. Her philosophy is that nothing can tell us more about UHI than data. That is why she has been trying to develop a data-driven method to investigate the complex interplay between paved roads and UHI. As can be imagined, central to this approach is the collection of a large set of data about roads and inner-city temperature. For this purpose, Monica came up with an elegant, green, healthy and “Dutch“ solution to use a bike to collect the relevant data. As shown in the figure below, a sensor-laden bike was designed and tailored to collect the temperature of the asphalt surface, air, and surrounding façades. Monica has been using this bike for three months now to collect data while cycling around the city of Apeldoorn in the Netherlands.

(a) Schematic experimental prototype.

(b) Sensor-laden bicycle equipped with GPS antenna at a height of 1.80 m, HD500 Psychrometer at a height of 1.65 m, and thermal camera at a height of 1.25 m above the surface.


However, when it comes to data-driven research, more is less! The more data from a wider range of cities is collected, the better and more generic insights can be extracted from the data. That is why Monica has tried to reach out to other communities that can help pursuing her data collection endeavor. And you know what? Her bike can serve other purposes beyond research. In fact, the practices of analyzing the data and trying to make sense of it have a strong educational value for HBO’s civil engineering students, who want to learn GIS. That is where the synergic solution popped up. Together with ROC van Twente, Monica developed a second bike that is now integrated into GIS education for HBO students. The idea is that different students will use the bike to collect data in Hengelo and then take the data to the classroom where they use it to practice how that data can be processed and visualized in GIS. At the end of the semester, they can look back at all the processes involved in collecting, cleaning and visualizing the data among others, and try to discuss what can be understood from the data. The same data can be used by Monica to further expand her research by considering a different city and different urban contexts. By involving young students, Monica hopes to rise the future generations awareness for a pressing challenge faced by today’s cities, and together pave the way towards UHI-resilient and more livable cities.

The pilot exercise of this synergic approach is already implemented successfully last week. The excitement and optimism are at the maximum both for ROC van Twente and CME.


Students from ROC van Twente discussing and learning about road infrastructure in terms of temperature variations in the city of Hengelo.