Obituary in the New York Times
Howard Odum, 78, a Pioneering Voice on Ecology
In six decades as a professor of environmental sciences at a succession of universities, Dr. Odum pioneered research into ecosystems and helped integrate ecology and economics. His research, often conducted with his older brother, Eugene, an ecologist at the University of Georgia, who died on Aug. 10 at 88, led to the formation of many fields of science, including systems ecology, ecological economics and ecological engineering.
In 1987, the brothers received the Crafoord Prize, the most prestigious award in ecological sciences, from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
Howard Odum, who founded the Center for Wetlands at the University of Florida, played a central role in environmental projects in that state. His study of the ecology of South Florida in the 1970's, financed by the state and the federal Department of the Interior, anticipated much of the Everglades restoration that is under way.
Dr. Odum earned his doctorate in zoology from Yale in 1951. He taught at Florida, Duke, the University of Texas, the University of Puerto Rico and the University of North Carolina before returning to Florida in 1970.
He wrote 15 books and more than 300 scientific papers. His most recent book, ''A Prosperous Way Down'' (2001), written with his wife, Elisabeth C. Odum, discusses the prospects for a prosperous future as supplies of fossil fuels dwindle. A revised edition of his 1971 book ''Environment, Power and Society'' is to be published next year.
Besides his wife, of Gainesville, Dr. Odum is survived by two daughters, Ann Odum of Gainesville and Mary O. Logan of Anchorage; a sister, Mary Frances Schinhan of Chapel Hill, N.C.; four stepchildren; a granddaughter; and nine step-grandchildren.
Editor's Note: This obituary was published originally in the new York Times on on September 17, 2002
Obituary by Mark T. Brown
Howard T. Odum of Gainesville, Florida, a father in the field of systems ecology, died Wednesday , September 11th at age 78 of cancer.
Dr. Odum, a graduate research professor emeritus in the University of Florida’s Department of Environmental Engineering Sciences, founded both the university’s Center for Wetlands and its Center for Environmental Policy, of which he was the longtime director.
He was recognized worldwide for his pioneering ecosystems research, and for his work integrating ecology and economics which has helped society quantify the value of nature. His six-decade career also led to the establishment of many of today’s new fields of science, including systems ecology, ecological economics, and ecological engineering.
Dr. Odum grew up in Chapel Hill, N.C., son of the renowned sociologist Howard Washington Odum, who was famous for his work on race, folk culture and welfare in the south. Remarkably, Dr. Odum and his brother, Eugene P. Odum, who died in August, 2002, both became the leading figures in the field that has been called the “New Ecology.”
Dr. Odum studied zoology as an undergraduate at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill before joining the U.S. Air Force meteorology program in Puerto Rico in 1943. He earned his doctorate in zoology from Yale University in 1951. He held faculty positions at Duke University, University of Texas-Austin, the University of Puerto Rico and UNC-Chapel Hill before settling at UF in 1970.
Early in his career, Dr. Odum was lauded for his use of electric analog circuits to model ecosystems well before analog and digital computers were available. In the 1960s, he founded the fields of ecological economics and ecological engineering; today, both have journals and societies led by Dr. Odum’s former students. Also during that time, he developed the concepts for the use of natural systems for wastewater treatment, now standard practice around the globe.
After founding the Center for Wetlands in 1971, Dr. Odum pioneered the research in the recycle of wastewater in wetlands. His Florida landscape ecology and management research preceded national policy for ecosystems management by two decades. Funded by the U.S. Department of Interior and the Florida Division of State Planning, the work, known as the “South Florida Study,” included many of the Everglades restoration alternatives that are under way today.
Dr. Odum was at the center of numerous crossroads in Florida’s environmental history. His research was significant in government decisions on everything from the Cross-Florida Barge Canal to Fenholloway River management plans to offshore oil exploration to proposed liquefied natural gas pipelines into the state. While his environmental and economic models often appear mind-boggling to the non-scientist, they all boil down to the idea that natural and human systems must be considered together for the benefit of both. Both economic vitality and quality of life depend on it, he stressed.
Dr. Odum was a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Science and co-recipient, with his brother Eugene Odum, of its Crafoord Prize in 1987, the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in ecological sciences. They also received the Prize Institute de la Vie in Paris in 1976.
In addition to more than 300 scientific papers, Dr. Odum was the author of 15 books. His most recent book, “A Prosperous Way Down,” written with his wife, Elisabeth C. Odum, was published last year. The book provides a blueprint for society on how to maintain a prosperous future as supplies of fossil fuels decrease in availability, as they surely will. It outlines ways of shrinking our economy and demands for resources that could lead to prosperity, not doom.
Some of his other books include “Environment, Power and Society,” 1971; “Ecological and General Systems,” 1983 and 1995; “Environmental Accounting: Emergy and Decision Making,” 1996; and “Environment and Society in Florida,” 1997. His revised edition of "Environment, Power and Society" is ready to be published next year.
Dr. Odum’s greatest legacy may be in the hundreds of students he sent into the environmental workplace in Florida and worldwide. Many of his protégés are now shaping public policy in the fields of wetlands and estuarine ecology, ecological engineering, and economics. “Few who have met him remained unchanged,” said UF environmental engineering Professor Mark Brown, a former student, sometimes coauthor and longtime friend. “Few who have studied with him view the biosphere in the same way.”
Survivors include his wife, Elisabeth C. Odum of Gainesville; his daughters, Ann Odum of Gainesville and Mary O. Logan of Anchorage, Alaska; his sister, Mary Frances Schinhan of Chapel Hill; his granddaughter, Kelsey J. Logan; four stepchildren and nine stepgrandchildren. In lieu of flowers, expressions of sympathy may be made in the form of donations to University of Florida Foundation, Howard T. Odum Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 14425, Gainesville, FL 32604-4425.
Dr. Odum’s memorial service will be held in October on the campus of the University of Florida. His ashes are to be scattered in the Howard T. Odum Memorial Cypress Swamp, a cypress dome, near Gainesville, FL, donated to the University of Florida by Dr. Odum for research purposes.