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Eckerd Graduate Jeff Ackley '08 Awarded $125,000 EPA STAR Fellowship

posted on 04/04/2013

A three-year, $125,000 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Fellowship will enable Eckerd alumnus Jeffrey Ackley '08 to continue his doctoral research – studying the effects of the urban heat island on lizards – at Arizona State University.

Eckerd alumnus Jeff Ackley '08
During his last Winter Term at Eckerd, Jeff Ackley '08 found himself in a (non-stinging) jellyfish lake in Palau, Micronesia. He now does underwater photography for nature magazines in his spare time.

While the majority of the award money will go toward Jeff's tuition, a $25,000 per year stipend will enable him to conduct his research full time, and another $5,000 per year will be applied directly to research costs. The EPA-STAR award comes on the heels of a $100,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship fellowship he received in 2009.

Jeff’s thesis work, an interest that was cultivated during his time at Eckerd, will aim to research the development of urban areas and the effect it has on natural habitats and rising local temperatures.  Jeff explains, "The urban heat island is analogous to global warming, except that it has already been happening for over 50 years."

Natural habitats are like polar ice caps – their light-colored and shiny surfaces are strong reflectors of sunlight. When ice caps melt, they are replaced by darker water, which absorbs more heat and accelerates the process. Similarly, as urban areas replace natural land cover with matte black asphalt, the heat generated by darker land cover increases the temperature 3-6 degrees Fahrenheit.  Though urban areas do not generate enough heat to cause global warming, the local area becomes warmer than it should be.

Jeff will be using the existing urban heat island effect to look at how lizards are coping with elevated temperatures.  "Lizards like to live dangerously – their optimal temperature, and a common temperature in areas they live, is just a few degrees below the temperature that kills them," says Jeff.  "A few degrees of global warming is predicted to drive almost half of the planet’s lizards extinct by 2080."

Lizards have three options: die; move north, which is not always possible; or shift their activity to cooler hours of the day, provided they can survive the summer. Some of the potential solutions that Jeff is studying are the use of artificial shade structures, tree planting, and the use of heavily irrigated landscaping. While evaporative cooling is quite effective in the dry desert where he lives, this approach is expensive because it requires importing exotic plant species and an unsustainable rate of water consumption.

About Jeff Ackley '08
Jeff Ackley graduated from Eckerd in December 2008 with a B.S. in Biology and a double minor in East Asian Studies and Japanese. He participated in two National Science Foundation summer research programs: Experimental Field Biology at Sam Houston State University in 2007; and Natural History of a West Indian Herpetofauna Avila University, Dominica in 2008. Jeff was a Ford Apprentice Scholar, a member of Eckerd's Sigma Xi chapter, the Japanese National Honor Society, and was inducted into Eckerd's Phi Beta Kappa Zeta Chapter of Florida. He served as a teaching assistant for Ecology and Herpetology classes and was the vice president and co-founder of the EC Ale Connoisseurs. Jeff has published two peer-reviewed papers, two magazine articles and more than 25 nature photographs.

Jeff is completing his doctoral research at Arizona State University.

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