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Saturday, September 30, 2023

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Agricultural burning – one of the most common practices in farming in Mexico and Imperial Valley – will be studied SDSU and SDSU Imperial Valley. Photo courtesy: Miguel Angel Zavala Perez Agricultural burning – one of the most common practices in farming in Mexico and Imperial Valley – will be studied SDSU and SDSU Imperial Valley. Photo courtesy: Miguel Angel Zavala Perez

SDSU and SDSU Imperial Valley to Produce Tool to Improve Region’s Air Quality

SDSU faculty received a grant from California Air Resource Board (CARB) to improve air pollution emission estimates from biomass burning activities.
By Daniella Rodiles

Research shows the air quality in both San Diego and Imperial Counties is adversely impacted by pollutants caused by controlled and uncontrolled fires in Baja California. As a result, a team of San Diego State University and SDSU Imperial Valley researchers are working to understand health risks and improve air quality from biomass burning in the California-Mexico border regions. 


The interdisciplinary research initiative will be led by Atsushi Nara, SDSU associate professor of geography, Miguel Zavala, and Linda Lara-Jacobo, both SDSU Imperial Valley associate professors of environmental health, who will also work closely with two graduate students. 


“In order to create a tool that will detect air pollution emissions, we need to understand the impact that biomass burnings have on the ecosystem and the surrounding communities,” said Zavala. “We will also be conducting fieldwork research to gather samples from nearby fires, which usually happen around summer to early fall time.”


The work is part of a new two-year, $235,000 grant from the California Air Resource Board (CARB) entitled, “Improving Mexico Biomass Burning Estimates.”


During the second year of the project, the team will develop a technical tool to calculate fuel consumption and emissions, which will include real-time satellite imagery from Mexico and California.


“We understand that some of the agriculture practices include burning to prepare the crop for its next harvest season,” said Zavala. “Yet, there are often climate-related burning activities that continue to increase throughout the years. We hope to create an environmentally efficient tool and resources that will help local communities understand the impact air quality emissions have on the region.”


Creating Binational Solutions


According to the researchers, engaging with the local community members will be key to understanding the health risks of transboundary flow from Mexico. Biomass burning activities may vary from agricultural, wildfires and controlled fires, which affect urban and rural communities in the Mexican region.


Experts from the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California (UABC) will collaborate with SDSU faculty to connect with community stakeholders, governmental and bi-national partners to create a community engagement plan.


“We’ll be working with U.S. and Mexican communities among the region who have different processes and resources in place,” said Zavala. “Although it is an ongoing collaboration and project, our research is key in improving the air quality for both regions and finding relevant answers that will better the quality of life of our ecosystem and communities.”


The new initiative comes as SDSU Imperial Valley plans to launch a Bachelor of Science in public health in fall 2024 to bolster the number of local public health professionals within the region. The university will also open a new STEM facility at its Brawley site in fall 2025 to expand STEM-related degrees, career pathways and research initiatives.