Wallace Smith Broecker

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Wallace Smith Broecker
Broecker c. 2010
Born(1931-11-29)November 29, 1931
DiedFebruary 18, 2019(2019-02-18) (aged 87)
Alma materColumbia University (BA, PhD)
Known forGlobal Warming
  • Grace Carder
  • Elizabeth Clark
AwardsMaurice Ewing Medal (1979)
A.G. Huntsman Medal (1985)
Vetlesen Prize (1987)
Alexander Agassiz Medal (1986)
Urey Medal (1990)
Wollaston Medal (1990)
Roger Revelle Medal (1995)
National Medal of Science (1996)
Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (2002)
Crafoord Prize (2006)
BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award (2008)
Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science (2012)
Scientific career
FieldsGeochronology, chemical oceanography, climate change
InstitutionsColumbia University, Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory; Arizona State University, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability

Wallace "Wally" Smith Broecker (November 29, 1931 – February 18, 2019) was an American geochemist. He was the Newberry Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, a scientist at Columbia's Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory and a sustainability fellow at Arizona State University.[1] He developed the idea of a global "conveyor belt" linking the circulation of the global ocean and made major contributions to the science of the carbon cycle and the use of chemical tracers and isotope dating in oceanography. Broecker popularized the term "global warming". He received the Crafoord Prize and the Vetlesen Prize.


Born in Chicago in 1931,[2] he attended Wheaton College and interacted with J. Laurence Kulp, Paul Gast and Karl Turekian. At Wheaton, he met his wife Grace Carder. Broecker then transferred to Columbia University, graduating in 1953 with a B.A. and a Ph.D. in 1958.[3] At Columbia, he worked at the Lamont Geological Observatory[4] with W. Maurice Ewing[2] and Walter Bucher.[5]

In 1975, Broecker popularized the term global warming when he published a paper titled: "Climatic Change: Are we on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?";[6] the phrase had previously appeared in a 1957 newspaper report about Roger Revelle's research.[7]

Broecker co-wrote an account of climate science with the science journalist, Robert Kunzig. This included a discussion of the work of Broecker's Columbia colleague Klaus Lackner in capturing CO2 from the atmosphere—which Broecker believed must play a vital role in reducing emissions and countering global warming. Broecker was described in the New York Times as a geoengineering pioneer.[8]

Broecker had 8 children, 7 grandchildren, and 7 great-grandchildren. His wife Grace E. Broecker (née Carder) died in 2007.[9] They were together for 53 years. Broecker married Elizabeth Clark in 2009.[10] He died of congestive heart failure[11] in New York City on February 18, 2019.[12] Days before his death, he gave a livestreamed video message to his fellow scientists, where he said that humankind was not moving quickly enough to stop global warming and urged the scientific community to "seriously study more extreme solutions to the climate crisis."[11][13]


Broecker's areas of research included Pleistocene geochronology, radiocarbon dating and chemical oceanography, including oceanic mixing based on stable and radioisotope distribution. This included research on the biogeochemical cycles of the element carbon and on the record of climate change contained in polar ice and ocean sediments.[4]

Broecker authored more than 500 journal articles and 17 books.[14] He is perhaps best known for his discovery of the role played by the ocean in triggering the abrupt climate changes which punctuated glacial time, in particular the development and popularization of the idea of a global "ocean conveyor" linking the circulation of the world's oceans.[14][15] However, his contributions stretch far beyond the "conveyor"; his work is the foundation of carbon cycle science, and his applications of radiocarbon to paleoceanography are landmarks in the field. His work with chemical tracers in the ocean is integral to modern chemical oceanography; indeed, his textbook "Tracers in the Sea", authored with Tsung-Hung Peng, is still cited in the contemporary literature 25 years after its publication.[citation needed]

Broecker wrote about his research, on mode changes in the thermohaline circulation: "We have clear evidence that different parts of the earth's climate system are linked in very subtle yet dramatic ways. The climate system has jumped from one mode of operation to another in the past. We are trying to understand how the earth's climate system is engineered, so we can understand what it takes to trigger mode switches. Until we do, we cannot make good predictions about future climate change."[16]

Fellowships and awards[edit]

Broecker was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences, Foreign Member of the Royal Society, a resident member of the American Philosophical Society,[17] and a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and European Geophysical Union. He received the A.G. Huntsman Award for Excellence in the Marine Sciences from the Royal Society of Canada in 1985, the Crafoord Prize in Geoscience,[18] the National Medal of Science in 1996,[19] Maurice W. Ewing Medal of the American Geophysical Union, the Alexander Agassiz Medal of the National Academy of Sciences, the Urey Medal of the European Association of Geochemistry,[20] the V. M. Goldschmidt Award from the Geochemical Society,[21] the Vetlesen Prize from the G. Unger Vetlesen Foundation, the Wollaston Medal of the Geological Society of London,[22] the Roger Revelle Medal of the American Geophysical Union, the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement from the University of Southern California, the Blue Planet Prize from The Asahi Glass Foundation, the 2008 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Earth and Environmental Science [23] from The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the 2008 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Climate Change.[24]

Broecker (right) with the other 2008 Balzan Prize winners and Giorgio Napolitano, President of Italy

In 2008 Broecker was the recipient of the Balzan Prize for outstanding achievement in science. His citation was made by Enric Banda (Research Professor of Geophysics at the Institute of Earth Sciences in Barcelona):[25]

For his extraordinary contributions to the understanding of climate change through his discoveries concerning the role of the oceans and their interactions with the atmosphere, as well as the role of glacial changes and the records contained in ice cores and ocean sediments. His contributions have been significant in understanding both gradual and abrupt climate change.

In 2009, Broecker was awarded the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Climate Change category for his research into the world's oceans, pioneering "the development of Earth System Science as the basis for understanding global climate change, both past and present". The award certificate also highlights "his holistic approach", which has led him to identify "the mechanisms of abrupt climate change".[26]

Broecker received honorary doctorates from Cambridge University, Oxford University, Pennsylvania State University, Harvard University, and Southern Methodist University, among others. On May 28, 2015, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Harvard University.[27]

Selected books[edit]

  • Broecker, Wallace S.; Oversby, Virginia M. (1971), Chemical Equilibria in the Earth (PDF), McGraw-Hill Education, p. 304, ISBN 0-07-007997-8.
  • — (1974), Chemical oceanography, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, pp. 214, ISBN 0-15-506437-1.
  • —; Peng, Tsung-Hung (1982), Tracers in the Sea (PDF), Eldigio Press, ISBN 0-9617511-0-X.
  • — (1988), How to Build a Habitable Planet (PDF), Eldigio Press, ISBN 0-9617511-2-6.
  • —; Peng, Tsung-Hung (1993), Greenhouse puzzles, Lamont–Doherty Geological Observatory of Columbia University.
  • — (1995), The glacial world according to Wally (PDF), Eldigio Press.
  • — (1998), Greenhouse puzzles: Keeling's world, Martin's world, Walker's world (PDF), Eldigio Press.
  • —; Kunzig, Robert (2008), Fixing Climate: What Past Climate Changes Reveal About the Current Threat--and How to Counter It, Hill and Wang, US/Profile Books, UK, ISBN 978-0-8090-4501-3.
  • — (2010), The Great Ocean Conveyor, Discovering the Trigger for Abrupt Climate Change, Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0-691-14354-5.
  • — (2016), A Geochemist in his Garden of Eden (PDF), Eldigio Press.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability – Arizona State University
  2. ^ a b Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory – The Earth Institute – Columbia University Archived August 3, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "Wallace Broecker '53 Battles the Angry Climate Beast | Columbia College Today". www.college.columbia.edu. Retrieved June 5, 2022.
  4. ^ a b "Wallace S. Broecker - The Earth Institute - Columbia University". www.earth.columbia.edu. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  5. ^ "Wallace Broecker '53 Battles the Angry Climate Beast | Columbia College Today". www.college.columbia.edu. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  6. ^ Broecker, W. S. (1975). "Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?" (PDF). Science. 189 (4201): 460–463. Bibcode:1975Sci...189..460B. doi:10.1126/science.189.4201.460. PMID 17781884. S2CID 16702835.
  7. ^ Weart, Spencer R. (February 2014). "The Discovery of Global Warming; The Public and Climate Change: Suspicions of a Human-Caused Greenhouse (1956–1969)". American Institute of Physics. Retrieved May 12, 2015., and footnote 27
  8. ^ Broad, William J. (June 27, 2006). "How to Cool a Planet (Maybe)". The New York Times. Retrieved May 27, 2010.
  9. ^ "Grace E. (Carder) Broecker". The Record/Herald News. February 5, 2007. Retrieved May 30, 2018 – via Legacy.com.
  10. ^ Gruen, Abby (August 8, 2010). "N.J. scientist who coined 'global warming' term tries to avoid the limelight 35 years later". NJ.com. Retrieved May 30, 2018. Most mornings, before settling down to work, Broecker takes a walk with his wife, Elizabeth Clark, a technician at Lamont whom he married last October.
  11. ^ a b "Wallace Smith Broecker, the 'grandfather' of climate science, leaves a final warning for Earth". Green Energy Times. March 4, 2019. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  12. ^ "Scientist Who Popularized Term 'Global Warming' Dies at 87". The New York Times. The Associated Press. February 18, 2019. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on February 18, 2019. Retrieved February 20, 2019.
  13. ^ "Near death, the man who named 'global warming' urged a radical solution". NBC News. March 3, 2019. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  14. ^ a b Schwartz, John (February 19, 2019). "Wallace Broecker, 87, Dies; Sounded Early Warning on Climate Change". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
  15. ^ Broecker, Wallace S. (2000). "Was a change in thermohaline circulation responsible for the Little Ice Age?". Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 97 (4): 1339–1342. Bibcode:2000PNAS...97.1339B. doi:10.1073/pnas.97.4.1339. PMC 34299. PMID 10677462.
  16. ^ "Faculty and Instructional Staff: Wallace S. Broecker". Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. Columbia University. Archived from the original on June 13, 2007. Retrieved February 20, 2019.
  17. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved March 1, 2021.
  18. ^ Crafoord prize in geoscience 2006
  19. ^ National Science Foundation – The President's National Medal of Science
  20. ^ European Association of Geochemistry (EAG)
  21. ^ "V.M. Goldschmidt Award". Geochemical Society. Archived from the original on April 15, 2021. Retrieved August 10, 2021. 1987 Wallace S. Broecker
  22. ^ "Wollaston Medal". Award Winners since 1831. Geological Society of London. Archived from the original on August 19, 2010. Retrieved February 25, 2009.
  23. ^ "Franklin Institute Laureate Award Page". Archived from the original on July 30, 2012.
  24. ^ "Wallace S. Broecker". Premios Fronteras (in Spanish). Retrieved March 13, 2019.
  25. ^ "Balzan Foundation announced 2008 prize winners". EurekAlert!. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
  26. ^ "Wallace S. Broecker, pioneer in the study of global warming, wins the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award" (PDF). BBVA Foundation. January 13, 2009. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
  27. ^ Rosenberg, John S. (May 28, 2015). "Harvard's 2015 Honorary-degree Recipients". Harvard Magazine. Retrieved March 12, 2019.

External links[edit]