The Center for Earth Systems Analysis Research was founded in 1986 by Professors Ernst Griffin, Doug Stow, and Richard Wright and they became the first Co-directors. State of the art software was licensed from ERDAS (remote sensing/image processing) and CESAR became one of the first customers of ESRI Inc., utilizing their ArcInfo software. The co-directors hired David McKinsey as Technical Manager of the new center. Soon after, the Co-directors added two additional directors with the targeted hires of Professors Allen Hope (1986) and Janet Franklin (1988).
In 1990, using California Lottery funds, the CESAR computing lab was moved from Storm Hall to a new purpose-built facility over the existing Nasatir Hall. The new facility was equipped with a variety of Personal Computers, UNIX workstations, printers, and a large format plotter. Leveraging the new CESAR facilities, the Birch Endowed Chair of Geographical Studies was created also in 1990 and the establishment of the Joint Doctoral Program with UC Santa Barbara was completed in 1991. Towards the end of the 1990's, John Kaiser and Pete Coulter were hired as soft-funded project specific staff to accommodate increased demands on the Center.
Marcus Chiu and Harry Johnson were added as full time technical staff in 2001. In 2003, Professor Piotr Jankowski joined the department and became another co-director. The newest co-director is Professor Trent Biggs who joined the group 2007.
After almost 30 years in the Nasatir Hall facilities, CESAR made the move back to Storm Hall in 2013. CESAR currently occupies the majority of the third floor north wing. The final technical staff member added was Pete Coulter in 2016, moving from soft-funded projects to become the lead of the Campus GIS initiative.
The current co-directors of CESAR are Professors Doug Stow, Piotr Jankowski, and Trent Biggs.