Professor Phil Bresnahan

Professor Phil Bresnahan


My ultimate goal is to contribute to our understanding of coasts in order to help protect them for the good of those who rely on them (everyone!). I’m an Assistant Professor in the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and member of the Center for Marine Science. I have served as a research engineer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the Director of the Sandbox: a Scripps Makerspace, and the head of R&D for the Smartfin Project. I enjoy working on many aspects of environmental sensor networks, including sensor innovation (electrical and mechanical design as well as laboratory and field analysis), cloud data management, and, ultimately, data analysis and visualization. I invent and apply novel environmental sensing techniques and analytical approaches in the (mostly coastal) ocean in order to investigate natural and human-caused phenomena. My primary R&D tools include Python, C/C++, LabVIEW, SolidWorks, and MATLAB and I have also dabbled in R, Altium Designer, and ArcGIS.

I work and play where the ocean meets the land. I work at the blurry boundary between environmental engineering and coastal oceanography. I am a surfer, paddleboarder, rower, sailor, teacher, and learner. Humans have always thought of coasts as playgrounds but we’ve more recently recognized that we also treat them as dumping grounds for our trash, (micro-)plastics, (treated) sewage, fossil fuel CO2 emissions, and countless other chemicals. I study coastal waters because I want to protect them.

I am passionate about not just studying the planet but also about getting research out of the lab through various channels: education, outreach, community engagement, commercialization, and business partnerships. I believe that the best way to serve as stewards of this planet is to learn more about its wonders and convey them to as many people outside of our specialized domains as possible. Please explore my curriculum vitae and my various projects as a surfing and paddleboarding marine chemist @ Scripps Oceanography and an environmental scientist at the San Francisco Estuary Institute (2015 – 16) via the links to the left. Thanks for visiting!

Just for fun, here’s a map of some of my outdoor activities over the last couple years, made using Python, Folium/Leaflet, and my Garmin Vivoactive HR watch. Color represents activity (magenta = bike; blue = surf; green = run; orange = hike; and sometimes I hit the wrong button on my watch and things get switched up…). Pan around and zoom into different places to see how I spend my time when I’m not coding.