Dr. Anderson Featured in “Understanding Wildfire in California: What the CSU is Learning”

Dr. Sean Anderson was featured in a piece entitled “Understanding Wildfire in California: What the CSU is Learning” on the California State University website. Dr. Anderson discussed how the Thomas Fire impacted our community and how ESRM students at CSUCI used drones and GIS mapping to observe and report on burned and unaffected areas.

Below is the excerpt that Dr. A was featured in. You may find the full piece here.

At California State University Channel Islands, Sean Anderson, Ph.D., and his team of mostly undergraduates at the PIRatE Lab (short for the Pacific Institute for Restoration Ecology) use drones to monitor and manage land affected by wildfire and other disasters.

Dr. Anderson, who is chair and professor at the Environmental Science and Resource Management (ESRM) program, loves giving students hands-on experience in collecting environmental data, such as aerial drone maps of burn areas after a wildfire, pollutants in the ocean after an oil spill, or measuring ecosystem impacts after a hurricane

By moving in immediately after a disaster, Anderson and his students learn about the large-scale impact of these events on the environment.

“When disasters strike, we strike right back,” says Anderson. “Our students are capable field professionals who know how to work with fire, police, incident command, and bring with them the technological tools to collect time-critical environmental data.”

And thanks to the flexibility and applied-research focus of the CSU and the Channel Islands campus, his team can deploy quickly to collect data before it disappears. So, when the Thomas Fire broke out in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in December 2017, they were ideally positioned to respond with drones that mapped burn areas, for example.

Anderson and his ESRM students then shared that information immediately with the community. During and after a fire, the first thing evacuated residents want to know, of course, is whether their home is okay. Local agencies often aren’t able to answer those questions quickly, says Anderson, because they’re busy fighting the fire. During the Thomas Fire, his students responded by creating a popup website to provide real-time information about where the fire had and had not traveled.

After the 2017 Thomas Fire, Dr. Anderson’s CSUCI students used drones and GIS mapping to observe and report on burned and unaffected areas. In the process, they made an architectural discovery.  

Anderson’s students also used drones and GIS (geographical information systems) to create a detailed 3D map of the burned Ventura Botanical Gardens. The map revealed previously undiscovered 100-year-old rock walls that had been covered with vegetation prior to the Thomas Fire. His next drone project will be a mapping initiative to revealnaturally occurring oil seeps that are still burning underground with the help of new thermal imaging-equipped drones that can detect harmful fumes.

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