The present part is introducing the methods used to perform the theoretical framework analysis, vulnerability to heat waves assessment and heat waves impact assessment.

The present thesis uses primarily qualitative approach –it is a case study of vulnerability to heat wave of particular territory of Plaine Commune, performed using mainly participatory observations methodology and supported by a bibliographic research.

As vulnerability to heat waves is assumed to have a systemic character, the performed bibliographic research should be interdisciplinary and inter-institutional, to cross all the possible impacts of heat waves. Among the scientific literature used are the articles of specialists in different domains, such as J.M. Alessandrini, J.L.Salagnac, S.Roaf (buildings), K.Laaidi, V.Wagner (medicine), V.Masson (meteorology), E. Klinenberg (sociology) and other.

Moreover, institutional documents produced by the IAU Ile de France, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, the Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, ONERC, ARS were a non-negligible source of information, especially important was the tool for diagnostics of climate change vulnerability developed by ADEME, which was used as a methodological framework of the case study.  Multiple documents for Plaine Commune were essential for the study, particularly the reports on climate change vulnerability diagnostics on the level of the department Seine-Saint-Denis and on the level of Plaine Commune, performed by scientific bureau Artelia and RCT.

A for the participant observation, vastly used in social science and having its roots in anthropology, is generally associated with exploratory and explanatory research objectives—why questions, causal explanations, uncovering the cognitive elements, rules, and norms that underlie the observable behaviors (Angrosino, 2008), which perfectly matches the needs of the present thesis, once we seek to explore if and why the territory is vulnerable to heat waves and which factors contribute to territory’s vulnerability. Participatory observation enables the observer to address the problems that are unavailable to other data collection techniques, for example, in the present case there’s a lack of readily available necessary data on the level of towns and agglomeration community, so without participatory observation, without collection of data on site it would be impossible to acquire the necessary data.

Participatory observations were held during the course of the four months internship (April to August 2014) held in the delegation to urban ecology in general council of Plaine Commune, namely during field trips of the towns of Plaine Commune, meetings and discussions with actors on the territory, participation in the meetings of technical committee of the Diagnostic of vulnerability to climate change and rarefication of energy resources study.

The site visits organized in the towns of Plaine Commune in the framework of study of vulnerability to climate change of the territory served as territorial zooms, each representing different urban forms typology. The site visits were useful to collect the descriptive data in what concerns the town planning details (transport networks, urban density, distance to the closest parks and forests, etc), building specificities (construction materials and techniques, height of buildings, windows orientations and dimensions) and the characteristics of the population living in the area. The visits were performed together with experts and actors on the territory, their exchanges allowed to enrich the study with the information from their practical experiences.

The information and experience acquired during site visits were complemented during the meetings of technical committee for the vulnerability study in Plaine Commune and unstructured interviews of 13 experts. Due to the systemic character of territorial vulnerability, vulnerability and impact assessment are inherently interdisciplinary, so to better cover the variety of domains we addressed experts and territorial actors in the fields of construction, climate change, medicine, urban ecology, biodiversity, urbanism, energy and economy. For the list of interviewed experts please see Annex 1.

The interviews performed were peculiar in a way that they were unstructured, meaning that there were of course prepared questions and the theme of the interview corresponded to the problematique of the study, yet because the study has a definitely exploratory character, it seemed reasonable to allow for more spontaneity and for questions which develop during the course of the interview.  This might seem to be a limitation to the study, as the different questions addressed to different experts don’t allow to draw patterns between the answers. Yet as the experts represent absolutely different fields of expertise, there were not many questions which could be addressed to all of them, it was much more important to fully cover their knowledge and experience on the crossroads of heat and their field of expertise.

For the present thesis a mixed data (qualitative and quantitative) is used. Table 2 introduces the data type by research question.

The qualitative data is acquired mainly from literature review for the analysis of past heat wave events, as well as from participatory observations lead on the territory of Plaine Commune.

As for the quantitative data, which has a rather secondary role in the present thesis, it’s introduced mainly in order to underpin by numeric data the qualitative information.

Table 2. Methodological approach by research question

Research question Qualitative data Quantitative data
Is the territory of Plaine Commune vulnerable to climate change induced heat waves and why? Qualitative data based on the experience of the 2003 heat wave and other past events

Data acquired in the process of participatory observation, interviews with experts, site visits, meetings with research group Artelia/RCT


Impacts of the past heat wave on the territory in terms of human (morbidity and mortality) and economic losses;

Future climate and population projections based on the scenarios developed by Meteo France and IPCC

Which are the factors on the territory or the characteristics of the territorial system of Plaine Commune, which can increase or decrease the vulnerability to heat wave?


Analysis of past heat waves (2003 and 2006 heat waves in France, 2005 heat wave in Chicago), literature review, technical committee meetings
Which are the impacts of past heat events and possible impacts of future heat waves on the territory?


Future climate and population projections based on the scenarios developed by Meteo France and IPCC

Assessment of possible future human and economic impacts of heat waves on the territory of Plaine Commune (extrapolation from the departmental data)


The heat wave impact assessment relied mainly on the climatic projections of Meteo-France in the framework of Livre Vert (2010) of Regional Plan for the Climate (Livre Vert (2010) du Plan Régional pour le Climat)(ÎdF 2010), as well as the projections developed in the Jouzel report (2014); census data and statistics from INSEE [1]; population projections developed by Lutz et al, 2014.

Heat wave impact assessment has a complementary role in the present thesis, its main purpose is to approximately predict the impacts. The methodology used for the assessment of future heat wave impact is based on historical analogues (analysis of past heat events) and extrapolation of the relations between a sector (for example, population growth) and climate.

Historical analogues were used to evaluate the impact on a sector based on the experience of past events, which had its impact on the territory of Plaine Commune (2003 heat wave in France), most recent (heat wave in France in 2006) and with most detrimental effects (heat wave 2003 in France) and well-described in literature (2003 heat wave in France – multiple sources, mostly health impacts-related, 1995 heat wave in Chicago as described by Eric Klinenberg in “Heat wave. A social autopsy of disaster in Chicago” (Klinenberg 2002)). The impact on following sectors was explored: built environment, energy, infrastructure, health and wellbeing. As the limitations of the method, the following should be mentioned. First of all, the adaptation measures are not taken into account, so it’s just a prospective analysis of “as is” situation. The cumulative effects are not taken into account as well (the impact of a single heat wave vs impact of a series of heat waves), nor are the nonlinear effects, nor the threshold effects (the magnitude of event differs, so do the responses of the territorial system.)

[1] INSEE (Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques) – National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies

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