Discovering Charlotte's Urban Heat Island - myfoxcarolinas.com

Discovering Charlotte's Urban Heat Island

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Charlotte, NC -

We always hear that things are hotter in the city. What many people don’t realize is that there is a scientific term to describe the phenomenon, known as the urban heat island (UHI).

In short, densely built-up areas normally lead to warmer temperatures. Parks and areas with vegetation have cooler air temperatures. You’ve probably noticed the urban heat island effect-when you are in the city and it feels like a furnace then you walk into a park or area with more greenery and begin to cool off.

Dr. Matthew Eastin, an associate professor for the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences at UNC Charlotte, describes UHI as “Largely a kind of urban effect that is created by buildings, roads and built structures that acquire heat during the day, retain that heat and then give it off at night. So the result is during the evening hours you end up with temperatures in the urban area that might be 4-5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the surrounding rural areas.”

While 4-5 degrees may not sound like a big difference, that contrast in temperature can have large implications.

What you may not realize is that urban heat islands affect more than just temperature. Your health can be impacted as well as your air conditioning bill. How? Energy rates are directly impacted, a large urban heat island leads to more spending on air conditioning.

Air pollution is linked to the urban heat island as well which can have negative effects on the human body. UHI can even generate thunderstorms over the urban area.

Urban heat islands have an even greater influence during extreme weather events. During a heat wave, UHI can exacerbate the problems caused by the extremely warm temperatures.

Until now, most research has been on the meteorological impacts of the UHI on areas. In Charlotte, the urban heat island has never truly been studied. So Dr. Eastin and his team at UNC Charlotte want to learn not only the impacts UHI can have on Charlotte and the surrounding areas, but the ecological impacts on the region as well.

“Nobody’s really studied the Charlotte Urban Heat Island, so it’s kind of a new area. We’re in a big city that’s been growing and experienced a lot of growth in the past ten years. And so the potential for it to have a significant impact on the area was large,” reports Dr. Eastin.

Dr. Eastin is collaborating with Dr. Sara Gagné, an assistant professor for the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences at UNC Charlotte, for this pilot research. Their group received funding from the University to pursue this project investigating the effects of the UHI on biodiversity in the Charlotte Metro Region.

All cities have a heat island to some extent. This creates major differences between cities and the surrounding countryside. But how does that affect animals? Dr. Eastin and Dr. Gagné want to answer that question.

Specifically, they are studying frogs and toads around the region since amphibians are very sensitive to changes in temperature, humidity and other surrounding conditions.

“Amphibians are the most threatened vertebrate taxon, so a third of amphibian species globally are vulnerable or threatened with extinction. It’s really important to look at factors that are affecting these guys…Since we’re trying to look at relationships between frogs and toads and aspects of weather and climate, then we can infer potentially what we find here to effects of climate change. So how are frogs and toads going to respond to changing climate longer term,” says Dr. Gagné.

To learn about a habitat, you have to get your feet wet. Literally.

Matthew Baber, a graduate student at UNC Charlotte, is working with Dr. Eastin and Dr. Gagné by leading the charge on collecting information on frogs and toads in the area.

Their study includes 47 ponds in the area. Matthew is collecting temperature, moisture, landscape, pH levels, and overall habitat quality structure at all of the ponds.

“We go into the pond and we take measurements. Using a meter stick, in centimeters we go 1 meter in and 2 meters in, then on the bank of the pond we record the ground cover, the percentage of grass, bare ground, anything that would be relevant to what kind of frogs and toads would be found there.”

At each pond, his goal is to “Assess whether or not a pond is really being affected by UHI or if it’s just a high quality pond for frogs and toads. This is the best way we have of assessing habitat quality.”

Not all ponds lie on public property, so private landowners are an asset and a great help to the study.

The team is looking for volunteers to monitor frog and toad calls at the ponds used in their research. If you would like to become a volunteer, Dr. Eastin, Dr. Gagné and Matthew Baber would greatly appreciate your help! Find out more information about their research here.

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