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The Urban Heat Island isn't as Nice as it Sounds

Updated: Jun 5, 2023

The urban heat island effect is the overheating of urban areas caused by the use of dense, conductive materials for buildings, roads and pathways. These materials, often referred to as “impervious surfaces”, absorb, rather than reflect, UV light. This means that the UV energy is retained and radiated as heat over long periods of time. In cities, the incoming energy is trapped as the amount of incoming energy is higher than outgoing energy, leading to an overall build-up.


Currently, 50% of the global population lives in urban areas. This is expected to increase to 70% by 2050, an increase of 2.5 billion people. These people will be exposed to extreme heat events under climate change, which will become increasingly frequent and last longer. Urban populations are disproportionately affected by climate change, as the urban heat island exacerbates extreme heat events. Urban heat island also irradiates streams and urban greenery, increasing the severity of heat in the absence of shade and water cycle.

Urban heat island Increases energy usage, air pollution and heat-related illnesses.


There are a variety of adaptation and mitigation strategies that can be utilised to reduce urban heat. Green cover is a particularly effective method of decreasing heat as plants reflect a lot of UV. Furthermore, absorbed UV is used in the mechanical processes of the plant rather than radiated as heat. Green cover also decreases the amount of UV reaching impervious surfaces by providing shade. Water from plants is also evaporated, creating humidity that interferes with UV.


· Methods of improving green cover include:


· Using tall, leafy plants to provide shade.


· Using green roofing,


· Green strips.



The King Salman Park (KSP) project was launched on the 19th of March 2019. It is an ambitious and creative project which will turn what was once an airstrip into a green and luscious recreational park. SESL implemented a series of soil, horticulture and ecological-based strategies to make this happen.

(New planting on-site at KSP)


Green coverage and green space are essential elements for a developed and bustling city such as Riyadh. Green coverage is predicted to reduce temperatures in Riyadh by 10°c! In a region of the world as hot as the United Arab Emirates, the reduction of urban heat is extremely important. Therefore, Grasses and soils are essential elements of a modern, sustainable city.


(Same site 5 months later)


The KSP project is Chaired by His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman and directed by Chief executive officer George Tanasijevich. The park is in the Saudi capital city of Riyadh and occupies what was once the Riyadh Airport. KSP has been designed and built to represent the Najd region, which will set it apart from other parks in the city, along with entertainment, arts and sporting facilities. This park will add much-needed green space to Riyadh and reduce the urban heat island, creating 70,000 jobs during construction. This project is part of the larger Vision 2030 goals along with Sports Boulevard, Green Riyadh and Riyadh Art. It will be the world's largest park at 16 Square kilometres, with 11.6 square kilometres of open green space, hosting 1 million trees. KSP hosts a variety of impressive natural features, such as an 850,000 square metre golf course, a museum of plants, a maze and a bird and butterfly sanctuary.

(KSP in the growing process)


SESL was contracted to perform consulting services for the park's construction in 2022. As a part of these services, SESL used evaporation, evapotranspiration, green cover and undulation as part of our environmental management plan. In doing so, SESL has managed to turn the old Riyadh Airport into a thriving green-space.


You can find more about KSP on our projects page by clicking this image:





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