Research platform 2: resilience of Asian cities

Asian city

Hanoi, Vietnam: busy, bikes

Asian Research and Innovation Hub for Urban Geoscience

Asian cities are exposed to multiple natural hazards, rapid urbanisation, and significant uncertainty regarding their resilience to environmental change. We aim to improve resilience by integrating geology in urban subsurface planning and urban-catchment science in India and south-east Asia.


Andrew McKenzie (RP2 Lead, and groundwater information manager)

Andrew McKenzie

Andrew is an experienced overseas hydrogeologist with over ten years of overseas commercial work prior to joining the BGS. His development research interests includes work in India and Ethiopia.

Stephanie Bricker (RP2 co-investigator, and team leader for urban geoscience)

Stephanie Bricker

Stephanie studies urban groundwater, optimal use of the urban subsurface, and the provision of city ground models. She is a Chartered Hydrogeologist with 12 years' experience across regulatory and research fields.

Marcus Dobbs (RP2 co-investigator, and engineering geologist)

Marcus Dobbs

Marcus is an engineering geologist, leading BGS work to understand the stratigraphy and structural geology of Singapore. He is the BGS Rock Mechanics and Physics Laboratory Manager.

RP2 current activities

Developing hubs for sharing urban subsurface knowledge

Indian and south-east Asian hub

A key aim of the Asian resilience cities platform is to develop a knowledge exchange hub for sharing good practice and experience both within partner countries and across the region as a whole, in order to:

  • demonstrate the importance of the geological setting for sustainable urban development
  • embed geoscience information, modelling and visualisation in urban policy and decision making
  • co-develop interventions that improve urban resilience that are appropriate for the geological conditions
The urban subsurface

The BGS has also been leading the Sub-Urban COST Action — a European network of geological surveys, cities and research partners working together to improve how we manage the ground beneath our cities.

The BGS has led the Action, and its 'data acquisition and management' and 'groundwater and geothermal modelling and monitoring' working groups, and contributed to its subsurface modelling and visualisation, and geochemistry groups.

Sub-Urban involves 30 European countries, and some international partners including Hong Kong, and so provides a useful template for the Asian resilient cities platform, and its ambitions to form an Asian Hub built around lighthouse and follower cities.

Sub-Urban knowledge assets — e.g. state-of-the-art city and topic reports, and a prototype online toolbox, are being built on by this platform. Bespoke versions appropriate to Asia will be developed.

Sub-Urban reports
Sub-Urban reports

Sub-Urban (2013—17) is supported by the EU's COST (Cooperation in Science and Technology) Association under Horizon 2020 Programme. Produced by COST Action Sub-Urban, all publications available for free download.

Cities matter — thought pieces for policy makers

A future town

Cities matter, and our future is closely linked to cities because they are:

  • concentrations of population, trade, commerce, culture, social life
  • where most future population and economic growth is forecast to occur

BGS science can provide invaluable support for the analysis, design and shaping of our urban future.

Urban policymakers need evidence, tools and capabilities to support decisions related to livability; economies; metabolism; form; infrastructure, and governance.

The BGS is developing 'though pieces' on topics related to the urban subsurface, to assist policy and other decision makers including:

Urban geoscience in a designed city — Amaravati

Signing of the APCRDA/BGS MOU in the presence of the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Sri. N. Chandrababu Naidu.

Amaravati in eastern India will be the new capital of the state of Andhra Pradesh. An area of over 200 km2 currently agricultural land on the banks of the Krishna River is to be developed into a city of over three million inhabitants. The BGS has signed a memorandum of understanding with the city authorities, with the aim of understanding the recent geological history of the river and its floodplain. This will help us understand how geology has played a role in the history and cultural development of the area.

We also plan to look ahead to when the city is complete. In essence, in terms of ground stability, changes in the water table, and pressures on geological resources, a large, concrete platform has been created in the landscape. What will the impact of this be? When combined with climate change, what responses and adaptations will be required to manage local to regional soil erosion and sediment flux, flood management and water-resource scarcity?

Satellite image of the site of the new town of Amaravati

In contrast to most of the cities that the BGS and others have studied around the globe, Amaravati presents a unique and exciting opportunity to address the subsurface planning 'blind spot'; to acquire geological data; potentially to sensor the sub-surface, and to build the geological knowledge and understanding to underpin the design and 'livability' the city before the people arrive. In particular, it provides the opportunity for early intervention of geological knowledge in decision making when it can have greatest potential impact.

Joining the world of cities above and below ground

Geo City Information Modelling

To achieve improved city resilience, in Asian cities, to future change and shocks, city authorities need to have an appropriate city knowledge base.

The BGS has been working with partners in Europe in the COST Sub-Urban network to develop a new concept — Geo City Information Modelling (GeoCIM). GeoCIM expands on Building Information Modelling (BIM) and City Information Modelling (CIM).

BIM develops more integrated uses of data in major development projects, generally focusing on design, construction and management in individual projects, but tends to lack representation of the subsurface.

GeoCIM however, is a tool to bring above- and below-ground data and knowledge together:

  • at scales appropriate to city needs, including full-city scale
  • as an explicit requirement of sustainable urban planning and management
GeoCIMs do not have to take the form of a single software tool.

GeoCIM involves generation, sharing, integration and management of 3D or 4D digital representations to support volumetric planning of at least:

  • surface layer: natural and human-made, on-surface features
  • anthropogenic subsurface layer: human-made ground, buried infrastructure, foundations
  • natural subsurface layer: geological units, hazards and processes

Multiple stressors on groundwater and geological resources

onserve water

Urban development has led to significant environmental degradation, in particular of water quality, and increased susceptibility to environmental extremes, such as flooding. This trend will continue unless improved development policies, protection measures, and remediation actions are implemented.

Development on the scale being experienced in Asian cities introduces immense pressure on natural resources such as groundwater in terms of its availability, adverse water-quality impacts and flood–related hazards. Where these occur, human health and a critical component of natural capital can be seriously affected. Climate change may well exacerbate the problems.

One criticism of recent work on the resilience of major cities to natural and anthropogenic change is that studies tend to treat stressors in isolation. This often leads to conflicting priorities, for instance between flood mitigation and groundwater recharge, or between water quality and urban drainage. There is a rapidly developing body of research on modelling multistressor interactions to assess their impacts on ecosystem services. This is currently being extended and applied to ecosystem services within river basins across Europe in the context of understanding how to improve environmental policy making and management practices from continental to catchment scales. We are working with partners in Bangalore, India, and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to explore, through stakeholder interviews and workshops, how multistressor approaches can bridge institutional barriers.

The BGS is a part of the EU-funded MARS project that is developing the science of multiple stressors in aquatic ecosystems.

The role to be played by ground-source heat pumps in tropical cities

Modelled subsurface temperatures in Hanoi, Vietnam

Groundwater temperatures are relatively stable at depths of 10–15 m below ground surface (approximating the annual air temperature at that location) and increase with further depth according to the geothermal gradient (typically 2–3°C per 100 m depth). As a result, in temperate climates, there is a temperature difference between above-ground (air) temperatures and below-ground (including groundwater) temperatures for most of the year, with the ground/groundwater being colder than air during summer and warmer than air during winter.

Ground-source heat-pump systems exploit this natural temperature difference for energy-efficient heating and cooling. In tropical climates, where there may be little demand for heating and air temperatures are high all year round, the technical and economic case for using ground-source heat pumps, rather than ubiquitous air conditioners that pump heat to ambient air, is less obvious. In favourable geological environments with, for example, high horizontal groundwater fluxes, ground-source heat pumps can still play a role in lowering energy costs and reducing CO2 emissions.

The BGS is carrying out a pilot study across a range of Asian cities to examine the climatic and geological suitability for using heat pumps, with the ultimate aim of mapping where they may be technically feasible and economically appropriate.

Groundwater/surface-water interactions and emerging contaminants

Sampling surface-water quality

Most cities have developed around water, whether lakes, rivers or the coast. Frequently rivers and lakes provided cities with fresh water during the early stages of their development, but with increasing urbanisation as demand outstrips the capacity of sources within a city, supplies of fresh water are developed outside the city boundaries. Stripped of their water-supply role, urban water bodies then tend to become a repository for waste water. In cities like Bangalore many urban lakes have been drained and built on, with the remainder acting as conduits for often untreated waste, with negative consequences for ecology and amenity.

Lakes are often promoted as a way of recharging groundwater resources, important in a city where residents and industry often rely on wells and boreholes for supply, but the interaction between lakes and groundwater in these environments is complicated. Lake beds are often engineered to be relatively impermeable, or, if permeable, clog with biofilms that can limit recharge. As importantly, if the recharging water is contaminated, this can contaminate groundwater and actually worsen net availability of good-quality water. The BGS is working with partners in Bangalore to assess the effect of lakes on groundwater quality through a programme of monitoring and chemical analyses aimed at identifying modern recharging water, and using sensitive assays for emerging contaminants like pharmaceutical compounds as indicators of waste water recharge.

The Upscape project is an allied initiative looking at quantitative aspects of the regional water balance in Bangalore and its surroundings.


Contact for more information or to get involved.