SFU student sparks new mission to mitigate wildfires

August 04, 2022

Wildfire activity in British Columbia continues to reach new heights, necessitating new tools to predict wildfires and inform safety and emergency management decisions.

At the time of writing, British Columbia has reached an all-time high of 363 wildfires, and researchers are compelled to take action to mitigate the undesirable impacts.

Post-wildfire impacts extend beyond direct risks to life and property. After severe wildfires, the loss of vegetation can alter soil properties and expose soil to erosion, causing landslides and flooding.

The recent flood in wildfire-stricken Monte Lake in British Columbia is an example of this scenario. Extensive fires last year left the area vulnerable to landslides, and heavy rains this year have triggered flash floods and debris flows throughout the community, requiring extensive repairs and clean-up.

Inspired by the recent post-wildfire activity, fourth-year Environmental Science undergraduate student, Jorrin Lenton, has embarked on a mission to collect data and evaluate the impact of wildfire on the soil with Dr. Brendan Murphy.

“I remember all the debris flow and flooding from the recent wildfire in our backyard during the summer, which inspired me to take action and make a change in the community,” Jorrin shared.

As an SFU Environmental Science student, Jorrin also received NSERC funding and an Aiden Serr Memorial award to further the research on predicting and alleviating wildfires.

“I am excited to have received this funding and research opportunity as it allows me to apply the knowledge that I have learned throughout my undergraduate degree in a way which makes a difference in the community,” says Jorrin.

Photo by: The Murphy Watershed Sciences Lab
Photo by: The Murphy Watershed Sciences Lab

Jorrin, alongside Dr.Murphy’s team, is currently studying soil properties across numerous sites in BC impacted by wildfires. To better predict how wildfires influence future runoff and erosion events, such as landslides, he will collect, monitor, and analyze a wide range of soil-related data and develop appropriate predictive modeling methods.

“The research goal is to better understand the impact of wildfire on soil and landscape,” says Jorrin. “We need more research in this area as evident through the last summer wildfires where the debris flowing from the rainstorms after wildfires significantly impacted the human infrastructure, resulting in loss of property and life.”

For Jorrin, this research project is not only the beginning of an academic career but also a pathway to supporting his community to tackle the disastrous impact of wildfires.

As an aspiring Environmental Scientist, Jorrin says his experience and knowledge in predicting wildfires and monitoring ecological disturbances didn’t develop until he came to SFU.

“I am happy to be an Environmental Science student as it introduced me to different concepts and helped me find the area of research I am most interested in via research papers and fieldwork,” Jorrin added.

Jorin is one of the many environmental science students making an impact. Find out more about our environmental science program and how you can make an impact here.