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Environmental science graduate showcases research on post-wildfire assessment as undergraduate journey comes to a close

May 29, 2024

A couple of months before crossing the stage at convocation, new environmental science alumnus Yanik Nill stood in front of an audience of peers and faculty at the Environmental Science Student Research Showcase and presented the thesis project he had worked on over the course of his final year.

“It was the perfect way to conclude my honours thesis and undergraduate journey,” he says.

Nill was inspired to pursue an honours thesis while working as a research assistant in the Murphy Watershed Sciences Lab. Supported by environmental science professor Brendan Murphy, he conducted and compared satellite and field-based burn severity assessments across the province, revealing gaps in the reliability of the former in different ecosystem types.

“Specifically, satellite-based assessments were not reliable for mapping soil burn severity across B.C. and did not fully capture vegetation burn severity on the coast,” he says.

This research highlights the need for measures that fill these gaps to make accurate predictions of post-fire geohazards like debris flows and flooding.

While he considers the chance to conduct hands-on research in his field a highlight of his undergraduate experience, Nill enriched his degree with a host of activities targeted towards his goals, hobbies and interests, like getting involved with SFU’s Hiking Club, Backpacking Club and the Ski and Board Club.

“I met some of my closest friends through these clubs,” he shares.

He chose his program years ago for its diverse and interesting course selection and was not disappointed. Among his favourites, two stand out: Methods in Environmental Science (EVSC 305), which took him outside the classroom to gain crucial experience collecting and analyzing data, and a breadth course in Indigenous Ethnobotany (INDG 332), which deepened his appreciation for the natural world.

He also participated in a physical geography field course in Kelowna — an immersive 12-day experience focused on learning, measuring and interpreting a wide range of topics in the discipline.

There was a time when all these things seemed like formidable undertakings to Nill. “Enrolling in a course in an unfamiliar subject, joining a new club, reaching out to a professor… doing an honours thesis — at the start of university, all of these actions felt daunting to me,” he says. “However, I took those risks, and it led to so much personal growth.”

He hopes to pursue a master’s degree next, but first plans to continue working in the Murphy Watershed Sciences Lab throughout the summer and into the fall before he goes on an exciting trip to New Zealand to explore its beautiful landscapes.