Friday, March 18, 2016

Pete Harlem ... by gimleteye

The following commemoration of Pete Harlem was released, this week, by FIU where he had been a long-time professor.

Peter Harlem's research using LIDAR imagery on the relative height of South Florida land mass to sea level, under various conditions of sea level rise, helped to significantly broadened public interest in the impacts of climate change. The maps he built, showing the flood footprint of Miami-Dade County, became sources of controversy when they were withheld by Miami-Dade decision makers at the county commission. Eventually, those maps became widely available through a variety of outlets and sharpened public awareness that climate change impacts are here and now in South Florida; a region with the most to lose by way of sea level rise.

By nature of work, personal temperament, and standards of conduct, scientists tend to keep their work at arm's length from the tumult of public policy. Pete Harlem, thankfully, was among a first generation of scientists in Florida who recognized that the climate change requires a more robust response by scientists as a matter of historic necessity.

It is with profound grief that we regretfully announce the passing away of our beloved colleague and friend, Peter “Pete” Harlem. Pete began his career at FIU in February 2000 and worked in various capacities within our Division of Research & Economic Development and the Southeast Environmental Research Center (SERC) within the College of Arts, Sciences & Education. Most recently, he served as an invaluable and resourceful coordinator for the Geographic Information Services (GIS) Center at our Green Library.

As shared by his supervisor, Jennifer Fu, Pete was a beloved mentor to thousands of students, faculty, and staff who came through the GIS Center; he was patient, kind, and generously resourceful. A trained geologist with expertise on sea level rise, coastal geomorphology, historical ecology, and everything in between, Pete was a source of knowledge unlike any other at FIU.

Pete earned his Master of Science degree in Marine Geology from the University of Miami, where he conducted historical and aerial photograph analysis of the sedimentological and environmental changes in Biscayne Bay. His knowledge about Biscayne Bay was highly valuable to our university. As a lead author, he generated one of the most complete environmental assessments on the status of Biscayne Bay for a project funded by the National Park Service. He was also among the first South Florida scientists to use LiDAR data to understand the impacts of sea level rise. In addition to these achievements, his sea level inundation maps and the Seal Level Rise web app have appeared in local, national and international news and media outlets including Rolling Stones, Miami Herald, as well as the U.S. congressional record.

As a veteran of the Vietnam War, Peter collected tens of thousands of Vietnam War photographs and documentations in formats of war journals. Prior to his passing, he expressed strong interest in making this collection digitally accessible to the public. The FIU Library’s Digital Collection Center established a preliminary website for this photograph collection and is exploring ways of digitizing this valuable collection of our history in his memory.

The university deeply mourns the passing of our esteemed colleague, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family and his coworkers during this difficult time of bereavement. Pete is survived by his brother, nephew, extended family and friends.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations be made to the SERC-GIS Annual Climate Change Lecture Series or the Peter Harlem Vietnam Photograph Collection to honor his legacy. For more information, you may contact the development office at 305-348-4349 or

Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact me directly at 305-348-0101.


Geniusofdespair said...

Oh what bad news.....

Bradley Stark said...

What a great guy!
He always had time for others, was most generous while teaching others with humility.
So sad to hear.