US Forest Service Research & Development
Contact Information
  • US Forest Service Research & Development
  • 1400 Independence Ave., SW
  • Washington, D.C. 20250-0003
  • 800-832-1355
You are here: Home / People / Profile


Research Topics

Priority Areas

RMRS Program Areas

Experimental Forests & Ranges

Shawn P. Urbanski

Research Physical Scientist
5775 US West Highway 10
United States

Phone: 406-329-4829
Contact Shawn P. Urbanski

Current Research

My research includes 1) conducting laboratory and field experiments characterizing the gas and particulate emissions from wildland fires, 2) designing and evaluating of wildfire emission inventories for the United States and Canada, 3) developing and assessing the techniques and tools essential to smoke modeling systems, 4) evaluating wildland fire smoke sensors. Urbanski, Shawn P.; Reeves, Matt C.; Corley, Rachel E.; Silverstein, Robin P.; Hao, Wei Min. 2018. Contiguous United States wildland fire emission estimates during 2003-2015. Earth System Science Data. 10: 2241-2274.

Research Interests

My research interests are the what, why, where, and how of wildland fire smoke. What gases are in smoke and what is the chemical composition of the particles in smoke? How much smoke is produced by fires? How and why does the chemical composition and amount of smoke produced vary with fire type, fire behavior, ecosystem type, and meteorological conditions? Where does the smoke go and how does it impact air quality?

Why This Research is Important

In the United States and Canada wildland fires are a recurring, episodic source of air pollution that can be a major threat to public well-being. Health impacts associated with exposure to wildland fire smoke include irritation of the respiratory system, worsening of chronic heart and lung diseases, increased emergency room visits and hospitalizations, and increased mortality. Dense smoke can obscure visibility on roadways and at airports disrupting transportation and economic activities, and even triggering automobile accidents resulting in injuries and fatalities. Limiting exposure is the principal measure available to mitigate health impacts during major smoke episodes. State and local agencies depend on smoke forecasts to minimize exposure risk to the public. When planning prescribed fires, land managers and air regulators rely on smoke modeling tools to limit smoke impacts on the health and safety of local communities.

My research focuses on improving multiple aspects of smoke forecasting models – burned area, emissions, plume rise, and dispersion. This research will enable land managers, air quality regulators, and public health officials to more effectively safeguard public health by improving the accuracy and timeliness of smoke forecasts. Furthermore, since many of the pollutants in smoke are also produced by the use of fossil fuels and by industrial and agricultural activities, air regulators need accurate accounting of fire emissions to develop effective and efficient strategies for controlling anthropogenic pollution. My research aspires to provide managers with the scientific knowledge and decision support tools needed to reduce the impacts of smoke on public health, economic activity and scenic integrity.


  • Georgia Institute of Technology, Ph.D. Atmospheric Sciences Atmospehric chemistry and chemical kinetics. 1999
  • University of Oklahoma, B.S. Meteorology 1993

Professional Experience

  • Research Physical Scientist, USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Reserach Station
    2004 - Current
  • Research Associate, Harvard University, Department of Engineering and Applied Sciences
    2002 - 2004
  • Post-dcotoral Fellow, Harvard University, Department of Engineering and Applied Sciences
    1999 - 2002

Featured Publications & Products


Research Highlights


Improved Air-Quality Models Help Land Managers and Regulators

New research helps reduce the effects of wildfire emissions on human health, economic activity, and scenic integrity


State of the Science on Wildland Fire Emissions

Wildland fires are a major source of pollutants resulting in both air quality impacts and climate interactions. USDA Forest Service Research & ...


Last updated on : 05/17/2021