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Sonoma State University has received a $1.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to study the effect of wildfires on forest health in California and to create virtual educational activities.

The grant specifically went to the Rohnert Park university’s Lisa Patrick Bentley, an associate professor in the biology department. The funding will allow Sonoma State biology students to deploy state-of-the-art remote sensing equipment to collect biological data to further understand forest structure, determining its impact on past wildfire intensity and predicting how it affects future wildfire risk.

According to a university statement, Bentley and her students will use a terrestrial LiDAR scanner to capture extraordinarily detailed 3D images of local forests. Combining TLS data of tree size with measured leaf traits and climate data, Bentley and her team will be able to determine how much carbon is stored in the forest study sites.

The research could be critical in helping predict how forest structures, altered by wildfire or timber harvests, affect future wildfire risk.

The team will conduct their research at Pepperwood Preserve in Sonoma County and three Cal Fire demonstration state forests: Latour in Shasta County, Jackson in Mendocino County, and Mountain Home in Tulare County.

“Given the effect that wildfire has already had in Sonoma County, I would argue that there is a strong connection between this research and all of the residents of Sonoma County,” Bentley said.

Bentley is the first person in SSU’s history to receive a grant as part of the NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development Program, which offers the foundation’s most prestigious awards “in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education.”

“Receiving this grant highlights how research at SSU can be recognized at the national scale by one of the top federal science funding agencies,” Bentley said. “It also is a testament to the hard work of the graduate students and undergraduates in the biology department and students and faculty in the GEP Department that worked many hours in the field and in the lab to collect and analyze data to help contribute to the ideas contained in this proposal.”

Bentley and her team have also received $1 million from Cal Fire’s Forest Health Program, the CSU’s Agricultural Research Institute, and the Joint Fire Science Program.