Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Howard Thomas Odum (1924-2002), commonly known as H.T. Odum or Tom Odum, was an eminent American ecosystem ecologist. A student of G. Evelyn Hutchinson , Odum played a key role in the development of the field of biogeochemistry. He went on the develop the idea of emergy as a unifying principle of energy flow through living systems. His students were pivotal in shaping the field of ecosystem ecology. He was the son of the noted sociologist Howard W. Odum, and brother of the seminal American ecologist, educator, and author Eugene Pleasants Odum.
Odum had an early interest in ornithology and published his first paper while he was still an undergraduate. He earned his B.S. in zoology (Phi Beta Kappa) at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in 1947. His education was interupted for three years by his wartime service with the Air Force in Puerto Rico and the Panama Canal Zone where he worked as a tropical meteorologist. He earned his Ph.D. in zoology at Yale, 1950 under the guidance G. Evelyn Hutchinson (Dissertation Title: The Biogeochemistry of Strontium: With Discussion on the Ecological Integration of Elements). This step took him from his early interest in ornithology and brought him into the emerging field of systems ecology .
Like his older brother Eugene Odum, Howard was profoundly interested in the emerging field of ecology, or more precisely, ecology at the systems level. He is known for his work in "Emergy" and energy flows in ecosystems and economics, and for aquatic and estuarine research. Also, he was known as an avid birder in both his professional and personal life.
His collaborations with his brother Eugene began before the end of Howard’s studies at Yale. At that time, they started the first English-language textbook on systems ecology, Fundamentals of Ecology, which was published in 1953 and had very broad influence. Their collaborations after that, in research as well as writing, were frequent.
In their first book, the Odum brothers adopted the term "ecosystem." (The term was first used in a 1935 publication by the British ecologist Arthur Tansley, and had previously (1930) been coined by Tansley's colleague Roy Clapham , but its modern usage derives from the work of Raymond Lindeman in his classic study of a Minnesota lake (Lindeman, R. L. 1942. The trophic-dynamic aspect of ecology. Ecology 23: 399-418)). Before the Odums, the ecology of specific organism/environments had been studied on a more limited scale within individual sub-disciplines of biology, rather than as a discipline in itself.
One of Howard Odum’s important contributions is the concept of "Emergy" - sometimes briefly defined as "energy memory." Odum looked at natural systems as having been formed by the use of various forms of energy in the past. Odum elaborated that "emergy is a measure of energy used in the past and thus is different from a measure of energy now. The unit of emergy (past available energy use) is the emjoule to distinguish it from joules used for available energy remaining now."
Howard Odum founded the Center for Wetlands at the University of Florida in 1973. By the end of his life, Odum was Graduate Research Professor Emeritus at the U of F, and Director of its Center for Environmental Policy. He wrote some 15 books and 300 papers.
- The Prosperous Way Down: Principles and Policies (with Elisabeth C. Odum), 2001
- Heavy Metals in the Environment : Using Wetlands for Their Removal, 1999
- Biosphere 2 : Research, Past and Present (with Bruno D. V. Marino), 1999
- Environmental Accounting : EMERGY and environmental decision making, 1996
- Ecological Microcosms (with Michael J. Beyers), 1993
- Cypress Swamps (with Katherine C. Ewel), 1984
- Systems Ecology : an Introduction, 1983
- Energy Basis for Man and Nature (with Elisabeth C. Odum), 1976, 1981
- A Tropical Rain Forest; a Study of Irradiation and Ecology at El Verde, Puerto Rico (with Robert F. Pigeon), 1970
- Energy, Power and Society, 1971
- Fundamentals of Ecology (with Eugene P. Odum), (first edition) 1953
- Ewel, John J. 2003. Resolution of Respect: Howard Thomas Odum Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America. January 2003: 12-15 (pdf)
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