One of Europe’s hottest cities battles the heat with ancient technology

Many Spanish children’s childhood memories of summer are strewn with sweat, long naps and street games around their grandmothers, who would pull out their folding chairs as soon as the sun went down, spending the darkest hours fresh from the day chatting with neighbors and friends.

The tradition, known in Spanish as charla outdoor or “cool cat”, is so entrenched that last year a village in the southern region of Andalusia applied for Unesco World Heritage status. The village mayor argued that the old habit is in danger due to the widespread use of social media, which encourages people to look at their phones or computers rather than engage in real conversations.

This summer’s record temperatures show that it’s not just social media that threatens ancient European traditions. The scorching heat – even at night – has kept Spanish grannies indoors in many villages. As the worst heat wave on record swept across the west of the continent this summer, villages across France and the UK rushed to cancel public gatherings, street markets and festivals to protect citizens from the temperatures deadly.

None of this is new in Seville, where people don’t leave their homes until 8pm in the summer and local festivals are due to start at 10pm. Built next to the Guadalquivir River in the Middle Ages, the Spanish city regularly recorded temperatures above 40°C (104°F) in July and August. The situation will worsen as the planet heats up, with scientists expecting several consecutive days of temperatures above 50C to occur in the next five to 10 years.

“Our responsibility is to take action to avoid a scenario in which this city becomes unlivable,” Seville Mayor Antonio Munoz said. “We must develop measures to mitigate the effects of climate change.”

Shading Policy

Beating the heat in Seville isn’t new – footage from as far back as the 1940s shows streets covered in large awnings to shield people from direct sunlight and help keep some of the coldest parts cool. popular in the city. In recent years, these measures have been extended to taxi stands, public playgrounds, school and hospital entrances.

“We call it a shadow policy,” Munoz said. “It’s just one of the many things we need to do if we’re going to be able to use the streets – from kids playing, to people wanting to shop or just sit outside and talk.

The city is using every other strategy in the heat adaptation playbook — installing public drinking fountains, planting 5,000 trees a year, and switching to building materials that reflect heat. Because extreme heat requires extreme measures, earlier this summer Seville became the first city in the world to name and categorize heat waves the same way the United States or Asian countries name hurricanes and typhoons.

The Zoe heat wave has been designated as a Category 3 heat event, the most severe of the three levels considered in the categorization system. It hit Seville at the end of July and brought minimum temperatures around 30°C and maximum temperatures above 43°C.

The pilot initiative, supported by the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center, a nonprofit promoting climate resilience solutions, means that every named heat wave will trigger measures such as the opening of swimming pools and water parks. of the city, or the deployment of health workers to monitor vulnerable populations.

“Heat kills more people than any other climate-related hazard and it doesn’t have to be that way,” said Kathy Baughman McLeod, director of Arsht-Rock. “The silent and invisible nature of it makes it even more difficult to convey these messages of how serious it is.”

But adapting to the heat today is not enough. At current levels of emissions and with the latest climate change policies, global temperatures are projected to rise another 2.4°C to 2.7°C by the end of the century, compared to the average for the pre-industrial times, according to the non-profit Climate Action Tracker. This level of warming would make life impossible in some parts of the world.

Seville’s response to this prediction is CartujaQanat, a €5m (RM22.3m) pilot project which aims to lower average temperatures around a street by 10C. The project, 80% financed by European Union funds and scheduled for completion in October, is led by Seville City Council and supported by institutions such as the Universidad de Sevilla.

Replicate the qanat

To lower average temperatures, engineers found a way to replicate the ancient Persian technology of qanats. These systems, developed more than 1,000 years ago, consist of building underground channels that convey water over a large area to be cooled. Vertical shafts drilled along the channel bring underground air to the surface, lowering temperatures above ground.

The new system will replace an old qanat, which was first used in modern Seville in 1992 as an experimental project, when the city hosted the Universal Exhibition. This helped to lower the temperature of the street by 3°C, but the motors that kept the canal water running were powered by fossil fuels. Today, the technology developed by engineers at the University of Seville allows this system to operate with renewable energy.

In another experimental twist, fresh groundwater will be pumped above ground and directed up a building. From there, it will trickle down the porous walls, helping to lower temperatures inside and out. Special benches connected to this system will create surfaces for people to sit down and recover from the extreme heat, said Lucas Perea, an official with Emasesa, Seville’s public water company.

“It sounds like science fiction, but it applies to a bunch of spaces around the city,” he said. “You just need a little imagination and the involvement of local actors.”

As Emasesa helps develop the CartujaQanat project, it will also use the same technology in a number of “comfort rooms” along one of Seville’s main avenues, where people can take refuge from the sweltering heat. with the municipal metro and bus companies to set up a similar system inside the city’s main communication hubs.

“Old traditions like charlas al fresco must not go away,” Perea said. “But they will be increasingly difficult to maintain if we don’t find ways to manage public spaces as the world heats up.” –Bloomberg