How WEkEO supports European cities to become climate-resilient

July 24, 2023

In a compelling and informative interview, Dr. Zina Mitraka, Assistant Researcher working on the Copernicus for Urban Resilience in Europe (CURE) project, sheds light on the purpose and future perspectives of the Horizon 2020-funded initiative, highlighting the pivotal role of WEkEO in building climate-resilient cities across Europe for the benefit of their citizens.

Funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme, the Copernicus for Urban Resilience in Europe (CURE) project has successfully reached its conclusion and led to the development of new Copernicus-based applications for urban climate resilience. But the achievements to date have only laid the groundwork for additional applications and products that will further enrich the toolkit available to European cities. As DIAS platform, WEkEO has enabled the smooth and successful development of the project and will continue to play a pivotal role in the future developments of CURE-related applications. We sat down with Dr. Zina Mitraka, Assistant Researcher at the project’s coordinating entity FORTH, to ask a few questions regarding the future perspectives of CURE and discuss about the added value brought to the project by WEkEO services.

What is the rationale behind the Copernicus for Urban Resilience in Europe (CURE) project? Could you list three of its main objectives?

The main goal of CURE was to demonstrate the potential of Copernicus to provide valuable information for urban resilience, supported by third-party data and in-situ observations. CURE provides the means to cope with the EO data under-exploitation in the domain of sustainable and resilient urbanization by combining products of different Copernicus Core Services in a cross-cutting way. The main research question addresses whether and to what extent the Copernicus Core Services are able to provide reliable information for enhancing the resilience of cities. Among its objectives were

  1. to provide a proof-of-concept that urban planning and management activities towards enhancing the resilience of cities in Europe can be supported by Copernicus Core Services, by developing cross-cutting applications focusing on: i) climate change adaptation and mitigation; ii) healthy cities and social environments; and iii) energy and economy.

  2. to improve EO-based methods, needed by the above cross-cutting applications, to estimate the urban environmental parameters at local and city scales, specifying and analysing also the associated uncertainties and evaluating them using in-situ observations.

  3. to exploit DIAS capabilities to develop a platform - i.e., the CURE system - which will integrate the developed cross-cutting applications. The CURE system is intended to serve as a highly automated technology for the estimation of the needed parameters from Copernicus Core Services, enabling its integration into operational services in the future.

How does CURE make use of WEkEO? What specific services does the project benefit from?

Using WEkEO, CURE can access and process Copernicus data and information for urban applications. The CURE System for Urban Resilience is a service (PaaS) that runs on WEkEO and has cross-cutting applications that use data from the WEkEO data catalogue, such as Copernicus Services and Satellite data. CURE also uses cloud-computing services for data processing. This means that for the development of the CURE system there was no need to set up or maintain any hardware or software infrastructure. WEkEO provides all the resources needed quickly and automatically. Other service providers and downstream application developers can use the workflows stored on the platform and apply them to new data on the platform. This ensures that different service providers can work independently and produce consistent outputs using the same workflows. This is important for reproducibility of the processing chains.

The final results of the project were recently presented at the 2023 General Assembly of the European Geoscience Union (EGU). Is there a specific project output you would like to share?

CURE demonstrated that Copernicus can assist urban planning and management activities towards resilience in cities and can support sustainable urban planning strategies related to climate change mitigation and adaptation. Eleven cross-cutting applications are accessible via a web portal; CURE products, linked to the CURE System, are open and available for demonstration and evaluation, including web-based exploration and analytical capabilities. Part of the CURE portal uses storylines to show how CURE products can benefit different user communities. Each storyline demonstrates a CURE application, or a combination of applications, with interactive maps, graphs, charts, tables and other elements that illustrate the products’ value and benefits for the user. Another part gives registered users access to create new products using CURE applications.

Cities are facing and are set to face important challenges related to global warming. What are the future perspectives of the project? Do you plan to expand the number of CURE products?

One of the key parameters for climate monitoring is overheating. Several CURE applications tackle urban heat. One application tracks the surface temperature of cities over space and time with high resolution, allowing investigation of intra-urban variations and quantification of the surface urban heat island. Other CURE applications provide detailed monitoring of the urban heat emissions and heat storage or estimate the thermal comfort. These applications help urban planners to adapt to heat stress and optimize accordingly sustainable city development.

More CURE applications provide benefits related to global warming, such as reducing CO2 emissions and mitigating flood risk. The CURE CO2 emissions monitoring application provides detailed information on the spatial distribution of CO2 in the city and reveals seasonal patterns for different emission sources. The CURE flood risk assessment covers different scales and elements of risk: hazard, vulnerability, exposure and resilience capacity and combines hazard monitoring for subsidence or deformation risk with updated assets information (land cover/land use at building block level). This helps urban planners to understand and manage risks by assessing threats and identifying vulnerabilities.

CURE also promotes integrated urban planning solutions such as Nature-Based Solutions, which provide a range of socio-economic and environmental co-benefits. For example, evaluating the potential and performance of green roofs for individual buildings can save energy and also regulate water run-off, improve thermal comfort, enhance air quality and moderate urban heat island. Finally, CURE tackles the urban air quality issue, which together with a health impact assessment contributes to urban planning measures to safeguard the health of citizens.

CURE applications are already being used by several stakeholders, including European cities. Are you planning additional demonstrations specifically dedicated to city administrations? How do you plan to attract more users at the city level?

Since CURE is hosted on WEkEO, its applications are transferable to cities beyond the demonstrator cities investigated during the project duration. CURE as a whole, or specific CURE applications/products can support the EU Climate Neutral and Smart Cities Mission or the Adaptation to Climate Change Mission. CURE can support the implementation of EU urban policies with data on environmental sustainability in cities. In particular, the deployment of Copernicus-enabled spatial data and environmental indicators, as with CURE, enables the necessary regular monitoring of EU urban policy implementation.

The European Social Climate Fund will provide direct subsidies to families, to reduce CO2 emissions from buildings, where households and the residential sector incorporate buildings responsible for approximately 20% of greenhouse gas emissions. CURE can provide intelligence and high quality spatial data, essential for effectively distributing these subsidies.

Despite the discussion on urban heat islands in the last decades, there is a great need to operationalise data into practice, to provide timely products on the impact of urban heat on the economy, employment, people, hospitals, schools, and other facilities and on homes for the elderly; this could promote rapid and effective action that is extended across as many cities in Europe as possible. CURE can provide the level of detail necessary for these assessments.