Passing of Keqi Zhang

In a memorandum sent out to the university community by Provost and Executive Vice President Kenneth G. Furton, we’ve learned of the passing of Keqi Zhang, professor in the Department of Earth and Environment.

Keqi

It is with great sadness that I inform you today of the passing of Keqi Zhang, professor in the Department of Earth and Environment and director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research in the International Hurricane Research Center (IHRC) at Florida International University. Zhang was an expert in natural hazards and their effect on coastal environments. His research focused on coastal responses to sea-level rise and storm impact, remote sensing, storm surge modeling and the mapping of coastal hazards using geographic information systems.

Zhang completed his Ph.D. in coastal geomorphology at the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1998. His dissertation research resulted in many refereed journal articles, including several that for the first time demonstrated a quantitative link between sea-level rise and beach erosion— now a basic principle in coastal geomorphology and engineering. 

He began his FIU career in 1998 where he conducted important work on coastal processes, including utilizing airborne laser technology (now termed LIDAR). Zhang led the research team that first mapped hurricane storm surge-prone areas in South Florida utilizing the new LIDAR technology. He developed a new storm surge model (Coastal & Estuarine Storm Tide or CEST) that is currently used by the National Hurricane Center in their forecasts and by emergency managers. Zhang had the technical expertise, intellectual capacity and dedication to develop state-of-the-art algorithms to process LIDAR data to obtain highly precise ground elevations, greatly increasing the accuracy of storm surge models. 

Zhang innovatively utilized the new technology of ground lasers to determine the surface roughness of vegetation and buildings, thus making a major advance in understanding the deterioration of hurricane-force winds over land. He also pioneered the use of this technology in ecological studies, resulting in many theses and journal articles. One of his articles on morphological filtering now has over 1,022 citations.

Keqi was a friend, colleague and mentor to many during his 23 years at Florida International University and to the larger coastal science community. Keqi was a wonderful collaborator. Students and colleagues who had the opportunity to work with him learned much from his rigorous intellectual approach as well as his excitement for understanding coastal processes.

Jaime Rhome at the National Hurricane Center eloquently stated that “Keqi was like a lighthouse in a storm, his ability to guide, inspire, and infuse hope was strongest during the COVID pandemic despite his long-term battle with cancer. In a true testimony to his dedication and vision, Keqi’s work will continue through his students and partners, ensuring an everlasting legacy.”

He was a loving husband and a caring, proud father of two wonderful children—his daughter, Michelle, graduated from Stanford University with a B.S. degree in Computer Science and a master’s degree in applied mathematics, and his son, Matthew, is studying computer science and economics at Yale University.

A celebration of life is tentatively scheduled for June 18th, depending on travel between the U.S. and China.  For confirmation of the date for Keqi’s Celebration of Life, please contact Jing Ying (Crystal) Zhang at zhouj@fiu.edu. The family asks that in lieu of flowers gifts can be made to the Keqi Zhang Scholarship Endowment. If you have specific questions about making a gift to this fund, please contact Stephanie Cox, executive director for CASE Advancement at stcox@fiu.edu.  

Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends, and colleagues during this difficult time.