Jim Falter was born in Sleepy Hollow, New York and grew up in the outer suburbs of New York City. He attended college at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology earning a BS in Civil and Environmental Engineering with a minor in chemistry. After repeatedly crossing the Charles River over several New England winters, he decided to pursue graduate studies in a more benign climate. He eventually earned a Masters degree and then PhD in Oceanography from the University of Hawaii first studying the dynamic redox structure of permeable sediments under Frank Sansone and then studying how ocean waves controlled the uptake and recycling of nutrients by coral reef communities under Marlin Atkinson. During his graduate studies, he also worked as a data analyst for the Coral Reef Biome at the Biosphere II Center in Tucson, Arizona.
Following the completion of his PhD, he remained in Hawaii working as an Assistant Researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. While at HIMB Jim continued to learn how strongly coupled the pathways of photosynthetic production and respiration were in coral reef communities under the prevailing conditions of nutrient limitation common to most reef environments. He was also fortunate to work with some talented people on a collaborative project studying how ocean waves drive circulation in coral reefs, how drag and the flow structure surrounding reef communities can change under the presence or absence of passing waves, and how this changing flow structure affects rates of nutrient uptake by benthic reef communities.
Jim moved to the University of Western Australia in early 2009 to continue working on problems related to the oceanic forcing of circulation, water quality, production, calcification, and nutrient uptake in shallow benthic communities on the Ningaloo Reef Tract. In 2010 he became a Research Fellow within the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at UWA. His current research is focused on understanding how the growth and metabolism of coral reef communities respond to environmental change; particularly within the context of increased ocean warming and acidification. He conducts most of his research through a combination of field studies, numerical modelling, and work in flumes and other mesocosms.