The scorching temperatures of the South Australian outback town of Coober Pedy have fostered a unique way of life for its residents. With summer temperatures reaching a sweltering 52 degrees Celsius (126 degrees Fahrenheit), around half of the town’s 2,000 inhabitants have sought refuge from the extreme heat by living underground.
Originally established in 1920 after the discovery of opal in the area, Coober Pedy’s opal fields attracted fortune seekers and gradually gave rise to an unconventional style of architecture. The town’s growth surged in the late 1960s as opal demand soared, drawing in more workers and mining advancements.
A satellite image captured by the OLI (Operational Land Imager) on Landsat 8 on November 6, 2023, showcases the distinct outlines of human settlements and remnants of mining activities against the red, arid backdrop. Beneath the surface, hidden from view, lies a complex network of subterranean spaces carved out of the porous bedrock. In these underground abodes, hotels, and restaurants, residents enjoy a consistent temperature of approximately 23°C (73°F) thanks to passive cooling, a low-energy, low-tech climate control method. Ventilation shafts supply fresh air while expelling moisture, and the arid climate aids in preventing dampness and mustiness. Moreover, inhabitants have the freedom to customize their living spaces according to their preferences.
Although opal mining activity has waned in recent years, Coober Pedy still attracts tourists seeking the novelty of underground living. Visitors can explore old opal mines or emerge from the depths to play a round of golf on a grassless course. Furthermore, the Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park to the north showcases breathtaking landscapes, featuring vibrant hills, flat-topped mesas, and the rocky “gibber plains” or “moon plains.”
Incorporating renewable energy sources has become a priority for the town, with a grid primarily powered by sustainable technologies. A 2017 energy project seamlessly integrated solar, wind, and battery storage systems with an existing diesel generator. In certain instances, the grid has operated solely on 100 percent renewable power for over 90 consecutive hours.
Living below the surface has not only provided respite from the blistering heat but has also defined the identity of Coober Pedy. As the town continues to evolve, its subterranean lifestyle remains a testament to human adaptability and innovation in extreme environments.
Why do people live underground in Coober Pedy?
The residents of Coober Pedy live underground to escape the extreme heat of the South Australian outback, where summer temperatures can reach up to 52 degrees Celsius (126 degrees Fahrenheit). Underground dwellings provide effective low-energy, low-tech climate control and maintain a constant temperature of around 23°C (73°F).
How did Coober Pedy’s architecture become unconventional?
The establishment of Coober Pedy in 1920, driven by the discovery of opal in the region, attracted fortune seekers and eventually led to the town’s unique architectural style. As opal demand grew in the late 1960s, more workers arrived, and mining advancements drove the town’s growth.
How does passive cooling work in underground homes?
Passive cooling, the primary method of climate control in Coober Pedy’s underground homes, utilizes the natural properties of the surrounding bedrock. Ventilation shafts bring in fresh air while expelling moisture, and the arid climate prevents rooms from becoming damp and musty.
What other attractions does Coober Pedy offer?
Aside from underground living, Coober Pedy attracts tourists with its opal mines, where visitors can explore the remnants of mining activities. The town also features a grassless golf course above ground and the stunning landscapes of the Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park, renowned for its colorful hills and stony desert vistas.
How does Coober Pedy incorporate renewable energy?
Coober Pedy has made significant strides in adopting renewable energy sources. An energy project completed in 2017 integrated solar, wind, and battery storage technologies with an existing diesel generator, enabling the town’s grid to operate on 100 percent renewable power for extended periods of time.