Erica Smithwick


Distinguished Professor of Geography,
Director of the Center for Landscape Dynamics,
Associate Director of the Institutes of Energy and the Environment


  • Sustainability & Environment
  • Earth Science

Focus Areas:


  • Smithwick can speak to the uptick in tempo and severity of wildfires, how it connects to climate change, and the impact on landscapes and ecosystems.
  • Her research focuses on understanding the social and ecological factors that govern landscape resilience and helps to inform landscape decision-making.
  • As a member of ScienceMoms, a nonpartisan group of climate scientists and mothers, Smithwick, a mother of three, can speak about the importance of assisting parents who are concerned about their children’s planet understand the science of climate change and how they can help.

Erica Smithwick is a Distinguished Professor of Geography in the Geography Department and a faculty associate of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute at Penn State. She serves as the director of the Center for Landscape Dynamics and associate director of the Institutes of Energy and Environment.

Through her laboratory group, LEAPS: Landscape Ecology at Penn State, Smithwick is actively involved in understanding how a wide rage of disturbances, particularly fire, affect ecosystem function at landscape scales. Her research focuses on how those disturbances influence landscape resilience and sustainability, with special attention to protected area management in Africa and the U.S.

Smithwick recently served as a Fulbright Scholar in South Africa at Rhodes University and has received numerous research awards. She is involved in several transdisciplinary projects, including Visualizing Forest Futures, which seeks to address how indigenous and Western knowledge systems can be used to address forest sustainability under climate variability, and LandscapeU, which is focused on graduate training at the food-energy-water nexus.

In The Media

What’s actually in all that smoke you’re breathing

from Washington Post June 8, 2023

“We’re experiencing effects of climate change right now.”

"I've studied wildfires for decades, and I'm quite alarmed by the changes that we're seeing to the wildfire systems."

“I do worry about this happening again and again.”

Opinion: Climate change is a parenting issue

from Philadelphia Inquirer September 15, 2022

"I used to look forward to the changing seasons. Now, my mind is occupied by the new threats each one brings."

Why Big, Intense Wildfires Are the New Normal

from National Geophraphic August 30, 2013

All wildfires need three things to burn: ignition, fuel, and the right climate, says Erica Smithwick, the director of Landscape Ecology at Penn State University and an expert on fire patterns. “But if you play with any of these things, you’re going to manipulate the fire,” she says.

"We also need to talk about climate change with each other. If people don’t talk about it, they don’t act."

"It’s so hard to make ALL the right decisions, so people should try to be 'climate better,' not 'climate perfect.' Fighting climate change is like raising a teenager — it’s confusing, complex and 95% of the time you feel like the outcome is completely out of your control. Yet, as parents we engage anyway because it’s the right thing to do. Make the right decisions on an individual level when you can, but don’t let it consume you — that doesn’t help anyone."

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