Ancient Naples’ aqueducts could be the key to cooling cities

A modern way to deal with high temperatures in the ancient world.
Nergis Firtina

Cool City 

While looking for a solution to climate change today, recent research has revealed that ancient Naples could have solved the problem.

Researchers are looking into how the region's ancient streams might provide refuge from intense heat as the planet warms.

Established as Cool City Project, Italian and American design students and architects collaborate to form a map of ancient aqueducts and water systems in Naples.

Their goal is to see whether this already-existing infrastructure, which is sometimes centuries old and set up underground, might stave off deadly heat waves in one of Europe's most heavily inhabited regions and one of the world's oldest cities.

Researchers use laser-scanning equipment to map the huge aqueduct network and underground canals in Naples. The goal is to determine whether resurfacing or revitalizing these antiquated rivers could mitigate the effects of the urban heat island effect.

As NBC News reported, "Naples is sometimes called the capital of the midday sun because of where it's located in the south of Italy," said Nick De Pace, an architect, and professor at the Rhode Island School of Design.

"It's a dense city in an area that is already dealing with geothermal heating. And then on top of that, you have climate change."

Ancient Naples’ aqueducts could be the key to cooling cities
Caesar Augustus roman emperor portrait with aqueduct.

Coping with high temperature

Ancient Romans played a pioneering role in urban planning, including aqueducts and water systems.

“They are waterways or aqueducts that were constructed during that period and also during Roman times,” De Pace told Yale Climate Collections.

“That water is not refuse,” he adds. “That water coming from high streams and from Roman aqueducts and so forth could be rerouted and reused for the sake of cooling the city rather than being thrown directly into a wastewater system.”

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Naples was also having a hard time coping with the high temperature, as it was a city that struggled with infrastructure inadequacies in ancient times.

"Naples is historically a relatively poor city with high levels of unemployment, and it's also a place that is expected to experience two to three months of extreme heat by the middle of this century," Nick De Pace suggested.

Urban Heat Island Effect

Cities are at particular risk from extreme heat because of a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect. A metropolitan or urban area that is much warmer than the nearby rural areas because of human activity is known as an urban heat island (UHI).

The temperature difference is typically more noticeable when breezes are mild and is greater at night than during the day. The summer and winter seasons are when UHI is most apparent. The alteration of land surfaces is the primary reason for the UHI impact.

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