Turn Down the Heat

On Saturday 14 January 1939, the Sydney Sun reported that Blacktown hit nearly 48 degrees around one in the afternoon.

While this remains Western Sydney's hottest day, our recent summers have broken just about every other record. In 1939, Western Sydney was sparsely populated. Hardly imaginable back then was the spread of residential developments, the size of its cities, the sheer number of people, and the long stretches of black bitumen linking them all together.

What effects would a near 50 degree day have on the elderly, on the young, on our houses, now?

The climate is changing, and we need to adapt to the increased temperatures already in the pipeline. Below, you will find work by Western Sydney University researchers and others exploring the impact of, and ways to mitigate, rising heat in Western Sydney.

Cooling the Commons

Researchers from the Institute for Culture and Society, led by Dr Abby Mellick Lopes, provide insights into how residents living in Western Sydney keep cool during the hottest parts of the year and how they would like to see their living environments, at home and out and about, modified to improve wellbeing in a climate changing world.

Report: Cooling the Commons

The No Regrets Process

Professor Paul James and Dr Liam Magee from the Institute for Culture and Society are leading a climate change adaptation project with a number of cities around the world, including Berlin, Barcelona, Liverpool (UK), and Buenos Aires, to provide a guiding framework for urban responses to climate change. 'No Regrets' strategies are based on concepts and measures that can begin to be enacted now without being certain about all dimensions of future climate change. Measures are taken and strategies are thus adopted in a precautionary sense with the aim of responding to possible negative impacts before they intensify. Such measures are advisable for future generations, but also relevant to enhancing the living conditions of people in the present.

Find out more here:


How Cool is my Kindy? Thermal Assessment of Outdoor Play Space in Early Learning Centres across Western Sydney

This multi-disciplinary project is led by Dr Sebastian Pfautsch and Dr Abby Mellick Lopes, with contributions by Matthew Blick. The ongoing study documents quality and quantity of shade as well as surface temperatures in outdoor play spaces of a number of early learning centres in Western Sydney.

Rising heat is a major concern for public health. As a result of global warming and the loss of green space due to rapid urban development, the Sydney Basin is heating up. Children are vulnerable to increased heat effects and often spend a large proportion of their time outdoors for play, learning and socialisation. The study conducted measurements of shade and surface temperatures in outdoor play spaces of three preschool centres located across Sydney’s western suburbs, namely in Parramatta, Penrith and Richmond. The researchers were alarmed to find that during normal summer days, surface temperatures of more than 80-90°C were quite common in all three sites. These temperatures exceed recommendations for maximum temperatures of surfaces and are a potential health risk for children. Hottest temperatures were recorded on artificial surfaces such as artificial grass and soft fall tiles. The study found that natural grass for surface cover and trees to provide shade were most effective in keeping the childcare centres cool and minimized UV radiation. Moreover, trees were found to provide better cooling and shade than sails.

Article: How Cool is my Kindy?

The Cool Schools Initiative

The Western Sydney University Cool Schools Initiative (CSI) was launched in 2018 to develop interdisciplinary research programs for heat-resilient primary and secondary school environments and design of heat-resilient curriculum. The initiative is led by Anisah Madden (Institute for Culture and Society), Vanicka Arora (Institute for Culture and Society) Professor Kathryn Holmes School of Education) and Dr Sebastian Pfautsch (School of Social Science and Psychology). This report summarises current research in health and environmental sciences, planning policy, legislation and standards, sustainability education, and innovative design trends. Its purpose is to inform future research into student thermal comfort and cooling solutions for schools in Western Sydney and NSW.

Report: Cool Schools

The Climate Adapted People Shelters (CAPS) project

The Climate Adapted People Shelters (CAPS) project has initiated collaborative, design-led approaches to reimagining the place and function of bus shelters, specifically in response to conditions of increasing urban heat and extreme weather events in Western Sydney. Research has been led by Dr. Sarah Barns, Research Fellow at the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University, and a leading expert in the field of smart cities and digital transformation. Research assistance was provided by Andrea Pollio, Guilia de Maso and Rene Fernandez, all researchers at ICS.

CAPS addresses three questions:

  1. How can smart technologies improve the management and functionality of bus shelters?
  2. In what ways might the integration of smart technology within bus shelters be used to address key areas of climate vulnerabilities including rising heat and extreme weather events?
  3. How can the wider application of Internet of Things sensors and related data capture and information management tools be used to support the needs of citizens living within urban heat islands?

Find out more here:


Report: Climate Adapted People Shelters

Which Plant Where?

Which Plant Where, When and Why Database for Growing Urban Greenspace is a program of research led by the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment. The research is building a new database tool to ensure that landscape plantings can account for current and future climate scenarios and so grow Australian urban greenspace in coming decades. This tool will enable the selection of plants with the features needed to adapt to hotter climates in the coming decades.

Find out more here:



Brochure: Which Plant Where?

Nursery Paper: Which Plant Where?

Nursery Paper: Greening Our Cities

Report: Living Lab

How Eucalypts Respond to Heat Waves

A team led by Professor Mark Tjoelker from the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment has made breakthrough contributions to the field of plant biology and global change science. Using unique outdoor climate-controlled pods to test the response of Australia’s native eucalypts to climate change, the team discovered that trees “sweat” to cool themselves during record-breaking heat waves.

Report: Heat Waves and Urban Cooling by Trees

Living Beneath a Cool Roof

This research into the benefits of cool roofing is led by Professor Vivian W. Y. Tam from the School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics. A green roof system is a proven way to tackle urban heat, with benefits for the residents of an individual building and for a city precinct more broadly. In particular, green roof systems are an effective approach to urban heat management in densely populated cities such as Hong Kong where heat has major impacts on the local climate and on liveability.

The study finds significant benefits are available from the implementation of extensive green roofs including improving visual amenity, reducing urban island heat effect and improving air quality. However, major constraints come from a lack of government support and attitudinal difficulties in retrofitting existing buildings.

Briefing: Green Roofs

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Western Sydney University is proud to partner with WSROC on their urban heat initiative. For more information, visit their website.