Dr. Harlan’s research explores the human impacts of climate change that are dependent upon people’s positions in social hierarchies, places in built environments of unequal quality, and policies that improve or impede human adaptive capabilities.

Focusing on excessive heat and urban water systems as significant and increasingly critical threats to human health and well-being in cities, she studies social systems and landscapes that produce unequal risks for people in neighborhoods divided by social class and race/ethnicity.  She has led multi-institutional, interdisciplinary research and community engagement projects that integrate social theories about the historical production of environmental injustices with data and models from the ecological, geospatial, and health sciences. She is currently conducting research on vulnerability to electrical grid failures and water affordability and accessibility in environmental justice communities across selected cities in the United States.

Her work on coupled natural and human systems has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation on urban vulnerability to climate change, sustainability and water, the Central Arizona–Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research program, and metropolitan area surveys on environmental attitudes and behaviors.  She has served as an advisor on climate justice and social vulnerability to organizations such as the American Sociological Association, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and the Social Science Coordinating Committee of the U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program.



  • PhD., Sociology, Cornell University
  • M.A., Sociology, Cornell University
  • B.A., Sociology, Northeastern University


Affiliation with Centers/Institutes:

  • Social Science and Environmental Health Research Institute


Institutional Affiliations & Appointments:

  • Adjunct Professor, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning
  • Senior Sustainability Scientist, Arizona State University


Research Interests:

  • Social Impacts of Environmental Change, Environmental Health, Coupled Natural and Human Systems, Survey Research



  • Environmental Health
  • Social Survey Research Methods


Selected Recent Publications:

  • Harlan, S.L., P. Chakalian, J. Declet-Barreto, D.M. Hondula, G.D. Jenerette (in press) “Pathways to Climate Justice in a Desert Metropolis.” In People and Climate Change: Vulnerability, Adaptation, and Social Justice, L.M. Reyes and J. Rigg (eds.) Oxford University Press.
  • Recipient of the 2016 Outstanding Article Award from the US Regional Association of the International Association of Landscape Ecology: Jenerette, G.D., S.L. Harlan, A. Buyantuev, W.L. Stefanov, J. Declet-Barreto, B.L. Ruddell, S.W. Myint, S. Kaplan, X. Li. (2016) “Micro Scale Urban Surface Temperatures Are Related to Land Cover Features and Residential Heat-Related Health Impacts in Phoenix, AZ USA.” Landscape Ecology 31: 745-760.
  • Petitti, D.B., D. Hondula, S. Yang, S.L. Harlan, and G. Chowell. (2016)  “Multiple Trigger Points for Quantifying Heat-Health Impacts: New Evidence from a Hot Climate.” Environmental Health Perspectives 124(2): 176-183.
  • Harlan, S.L., G. Chowell, S. Yang, E. Morales, D.B. Petitti, B.L. Ruddell, D.M. Ruddell. (2014) “Heat-Related Deaths in Hot Cities: Estimating Human Tolerance to High Temperatures.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 11(3):3304-3326. doi: 10.3390/ijerph110303304.
  • Harlan, S.L., D.N. Pellow, and J.T. Roberts with S.E. Bell, W.G. Holt, and J. Nagel (2015) “Climate Injustice and Inequality: Insights from Sociology.” Pp. 127-163 in Climate Change and Society: Sociological Perspectives, R.E. Dunlap and R.J. Brulle (eds.) Oxford University Press.


Selected Public Service:

  • Teaching Climate Change, Inspiring Action. Public symposium co-sponsored with Boston Civic Media, Emerson College Engagement Lab and collaborator Sara Wylie. Northeastern University in March 2017.