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Urban Ecosystem Analysis &
Alternative Urban Planning Scenarios 

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Contact Prof. Ahmed Z. Khan, Philip Stessens
Keywords Ecosystem Services, Planning, Urban Design, Sustainability
Cartography and GIS Research Group, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Prof. Frank Canters
Frederik Priem (PhD student)
Hydrology & Hydraulic Engineering Department, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Dr. Boud Verbeiren
​Prof. Willy Bauwens
​Charlotte Wirion
Afdeling Bos, Natuur en Landschap, KULeuven
​Prof. Ben Somers
​Prof. Martin Hermy
​Jeroen Degerickx 
Department of Forest and Water Management
Prof. Frieke Van Coillie
Prof. Robert De Wulf
Marie-Leen Verdonck
Geomatics Lab, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Dr. Sebastian van der Linden
​Dr. Akpona Okujeni
Department of Geography, UCSB, USA
prof. Dar Roberts
prof. Joe McFadden
Erin Wetherley
Unit Environmental Modelling, VITO
Dr. Bino Maiheu
Dr. Hans Hooyberghs

Project Summary

UrbanEARS:Urban Ecosystem Analysis supported by Remote Sensing

Urbanization and global warming present enormous challenges for our cities. Green space is increasingly being converted to densely built-up environments that are vulnerable to heat and water stress. At the same time extreme meteorological events are becoming more common and intense. Sustainable development and scientifically supported management of urban areas are crucial to protect our quality of life in the city. Most policy support tools and environmental models are however not adapted to the spatial complexity of urban landscapes. Using environmental data provided by remote sensing can help us in overcoming this knowledge gap.

In UrbanEARS we explore the potential of state-of-the-art remote sensing technologies for detailed, spatially explicit characterization of the urban environment. Investigated data sources include imaging spectroscopy, multispectral remote sensing and laser altimetry. Acquired information on the characteristics of green and built-up areas is subsequently used to improve the parametrization of urban biophysical models. As such, we strive at improving the operational value of urban ecosystem services related to temperature and water regulation.

Within the URBAN MAPPING and URBAN GREEN parts, the team aims to map and characterize the urban environment based on recent remote sensing technologies. The focus is on the integration of multi- and hyperspectral imagery with airborne LiDAR and on the development of generic workflows which can easily be transfered to other sensors and locations. The produced land cover and urban green maps are subsequently used in the URBAN HEAT AND WATER REGULATION parts for the enhanced parameterization of urban biophysical models. These models in turn result in ecosystem service indicator maps related to temperature and runoff reduction. Using a variety of GIS and socio-economic data in combination with an agent-based modelling approach, different realistic urban growth scenarios are produced in the URBAN PLANNING part. These different scenarios are evaluated with regard to their impact on the urban climate and water cycle using the aforementioned models. Based on this research, valuable guidelines related to sustainable urban development will be formulated for urban planners and managers.

BATir Chair for Sustainable Architecture & Urbanism (SAU) is the main partner for the work package on developing alternative urban planning scenarios, and their testing and calibration, including contribution to the work on Urban Heat Island. The Scenarios work’s aim is to develop a simulation framework to assess the impact of future residential and economic development within the Brussels metropolitan area on heat-related and hydrological behavior. Within this framework, SAU and the CGIS of VUB define different urban planning scenarios, corresponding to contrasting views on future urban development, and assess their relative impacts on urban ecosystem services.





Research Objectives

Explore the potential of innovative remote sensing approaches for improved land cover parameterization of urban biophysical models

Examine the use of spectral and LiDAR remote sensing data for characterizing chemical and structural properties of urban vegetation

Consolidate chemical and structural properties of the urban environment, derived by remote sensing, by defining a local climate zone (LCZ) typology that is far better suited to characterize urban climatic conditions than traditional land cover datasets typically employed for urban climate modelling.

Develop a quantitative ecosystem service mapping tool on urban water regulation making optimal use of the detailed, high-resolution remote sensing based characterization of the urban ecosystem.

Develop a simulation framework for assessing impacts of urban growth and alternative urban planning scenarios on urban heat and water regulation, based on an integration of agent-based modelling of human activities at neighborhood level, and grid-based, remote sensing supported modelling of biophysical processes.


Project partners:

Division Forest, Nature & Landscape, KULeuven

Department of Geography, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Department of Hydrology, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Laboratory of Forest Management, University of Ghent

Geography Department, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany

Department of Geography, University of California Santa Barbara, US

Environmental Modeling Unit, Flemish Institute for Technological Research, Mol

Building, Architecture and Town Planning Department, Université Libre Bruxelles


The project is funded by the Belgian Science Policy Office within the RESEARCH PROGRAMME FOR EARTH OBSERVATION - “STEREO III”.

Selected publications
Key references