Birmingham Urban Observatory

Birmingham Urban Observatory

At the Birmingham Urban Observatory, based in the UK's second largest city, the focus is on critical infrastructure.

A major component of critical infrastructure in Birmingham is the region's numerous transport networks. They are interested in how weather and climate impact this critical infrastructure, and how in turn it influences the health of the city, e.g. air quality. They provide insights into the performance of green, grey and buried infrastructure across the city. Answering questions such as: how do local disruptions such as streetworks influence urban biodiversity. Their hope is that these monitoring systems will inform city planners about how to "green our cities" to best effect for both citizens and the infrastructure systems that support their daily lives.

More than half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas and UN projections suggest that this proportion will rise to 68% by 2050 worldwide. In Europe, this proportion has already been succeeded with 74% of our citizen living in cities.

Cities generate the vast majority of the country's wealth and investment in its infrastructure amounts to billions each year. Cities are complex entities, with dynamic and interacting infrastructure, social and environmental aspects. For cities to be attractive to live in, they need to provide infrastructure for housing, transport, energy, leisure and health. There are many interdependencies between those sectors. Yet, research typically focuses on single sectors, and limited timeframes and therefore is unable to understand the interwoven processes and systems.

Photo credit: Luke Matthews via Unsplash

Technology and equipment

We're busy deploying sensors across the city to collect vital data. Here's a selection of the technology being deployed:

  • 100 low-cost weather stations in schools and homes.
  • 25 high-quality reference weather stations.
  • A distributed acoustic sensing system providing a variety of underground measurements.
  • A high-resolution rainfall radar system.
  • 10 air quality sensors.
  • 5 rail moisture sensors.
  • 10 road temperature sensors.
  • A lightning detector.
  • Traffic counters.
  • Lux meters.
  • Automatic PIT tag readers.

Find out more: 

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Contact Lee Chapman, l.chapman@bham.ac.uk