John Harte is a physicist turned ecologist. His research interests span ecological field research, the theory of complex systems, and policy analysis. Current interests include applying insights from information theory to the analysis of complex ecosystems and empirical investigation of climate-ecosystem feedback dynamics.
He is a Professor of the Graduate School and previously held a joint professorship in the Energy and Resources Group and the Ecosystem Sciences Division of the College of Natural Resources. He received a BA in physics from Harvard University in 1961 and a PhD in theoretical physics from the University of Wisconsin in 1965. He was an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at CERN, Geneva, during 1965–66 and a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, during 1966–68. During the next 5 years, he was Assistant Professor of Physics at Yale University and has been at Berkeley since 1973. Harte’s honors and awards include elected fellowship to the American Physical Society and the California Academy of Sciences, a Pew Scholars Prize in Conservation and the Environment, a Guggenheim Fellowship, Phi Beta Kappa and University of Colorado Distinguished Lectureships, the Leo Szilard prize from the American Physical Society, the UC Berkeley Graduate Mentorship Award, a Miller Professorship, and a George Polk award in investigative journalism. He has served on six National Academy of Sciences Committees and has authored over 200 scientific publications, including eight books, on topics including biodiversity, climate change, biogeochemisty, and energy and water resources.
Harte’s research investigates the effects of human actions on, and the linkages among, biogeochemical processes, ecosystem structure and function, biodiversity, and climate. His work spans a range of scales from plot to landscape to global and utilizes field investigations, mathematical modeling, and theory development. He also conducts policy studies that attempt to connect the science to its societal implications. Two themes, feedback and scaling, weave through much of his research.
One area is climate-ecosystem linkages. Since 1990, and with continuous NSF support, he and his graduate students have been studying the effects of climate warming on a subalpine meadow (the “warming meadow”) at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) in Colorado. His pioneering approach has been to artificially warm meadow plots and directly study responses. To extend the generality of the warming meadow findings, he and his students have also carried out field investigations of climate-ecosystem interactions in forests in the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada, and grasslands in the Tibetan Plateau and the Marin Headlands. Methodologically, all these studies blend together field manipulations in experimental field plots, observations across natural ecological and climate gradients, and mathematical modeling. Whereas the experimental manipulations provide a means of discovering the actual mechanisms governing ecosystem responses to warming, the gradient studies and the mathematical models provide a means of scaling up the implications of these mechanisms from plot to landscape scale. The single most important conclusion from Harte’s climate-ecosystem investigations is that ecosystem responses to climate change are likely to trigger large feedback effects and that most of these will enhance, not reduce, global warming.
A second major area of research is understanding patterns in the distribution and abundance of species across spatial scales and across habitats and taxonomic groups. Knowledge of such patterns is central to formulating local, national and global conservation and land use policies, as well as to understanding the principles governing ecosystem structure, function, and temporal dynamics. Toward that end, Harte has developed a unified and parsimonious theory of the distribution, abundance, and energetics of species. Extensive tests of the theory show it to be remarkably accurate, even though it has no adjustable parameters, and directly applicable to many issues in conservation biology. The theory derives directly from information theory and by analogy from thermodynamics. The maximum information entropy inference procedure, or MaxEnt for short, is at the core of the theory. Oxford University Press Book 2011: Maximum Entropy and Ecology: A Theory of Abundance, Distribution, and Energetics, by John Harte
In their new book, “Cool the Earth, Save the Economy: Solving the Climate Crisis is EASY,” John and his wife Mel present a blueprint for reducing US emissions by 75% by 2030 … and without carbon sequestration, biofuels, or a carbon tax. Go to www.cooltheearth.us for a free download of the book.
- John Harte’s Lab
- Book: Maximum Entropy and Ecology: A Theory of Abundance, Distribution, and Energetics
- Book: Cool the Earth, Save the Economy: Solving the Climate Crisis is EASY
310 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-3050