New study reveals Madrid has the worst Urban Heat Island Effect

Author: Leah Pattem

July 2023 was Spain’s hottest month on record, and last year was also our hottest year on record resulting in over 11,000 heat-related deaths. But temperatures didn’t rise the same amount everywhere, varying region by region, and even street by street.

Urban Heat Snapshot (UHS), a research project by Arup university, studied and compared the Urban Heat Island Effect (UHIE) of six major cities: Cairo, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Mumbai and New York. Results revealed that out of all six cities, Madrid’s UHIE was the most extreme.The greatest UHIE hot spot was Plaza Juan Pujol in Malasaña, which was 8.5°C hotter than the rural surrounding area of Madrid.

Over 90% of the surfaces on this square are impervious meaning they don’t allow water to pass through and therefore typically absorb and retain heat. The square also contains just 3% green surface cover.

The study identified the coolest area of Madrid in the north of the Casa de Campo, where temperatures were 8°C cooler than the rural surrounding area of Madrid. Many residents of Madrid live within Madrid’s artificially hotter areas and are affected by the worst UHIE. UHS have proposed various solutions and two that stand out are also the two that go against Almeida’s current mission to all but deforest and tarmac the city: trees & natural surfaces.

Malasaña, 2016, when the barrio still had historical cobblestones

Trees both reflect heat through their shiny leaves and absorb heat through their endothermic ability to produce coolness during high temperatures. An increase in tree cover in European cities could have prevented over 2,500 excess deaths last year alone.

Permeable surfaces (soil, grass, forest) retain less heat compared to impermeable surfaces like concrete or tarmac. Installing more natural surfaces in our streets and squares allows water to infiltrate into the ground and, like trees, can cool the surrounding environment. The same can be applied to bare rooftops, patios and private terraces.


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