Wallace “Wally” Broecker, the scientist who brought the term “global warming” into the vocabulary of scientists and the public alike, died at a New York hospital this Monday. He was 87-years old.
Born in Chicago in 1931, Broecker went on to become a professor at the department of earth and environmental science at Columbia University. He was one of the first scientists to raise alarm about the effects of human activity on global temperatures. He predicted the ongoing changes in the environment and their relationship with Carbon Dioxide in his 1975 paper, Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?
He is also known for discovering a system of deep ocean currents, known as the global “conveyor belt”, that transfers water and nutrients between the continents.
The majority of Broecker’s work was focused on the ocean’s effects on climate and the behavior of the climate throughout history. He was speaking about the need to restrict fossil fuel consumption as far back as the 1970s.
“Wally was unique, brilliant and combative,” said Princeton University professor Michael Oppenheimer. “He wasn’t fooled by the cooling of the 1970s. He saw clearly the unprecedented warming now playing out and made his views clear, even when few were willing to listen.”
In 1984, Broecker told a House subcommittee in the US that the buildup of greenhouse gases warranted a “bold, new national effort aimed at understanding the operation of the realms of the atmosphere, oceans, ice and terrestrial biosphere.”
In a 1998 interview with the New York Times, he had said, “The climate system is an angry beast and we are poking it with sticks”.
Broecker’s work earned him nicknames such as “grandfather of climate science” and “dean of climate scientists”.
He was the recipient of numerous awards, including a National Medal of Science, the Balzan Prize, the BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge Award and honorary doctorates from Harvard, Cambridge and Oxford, as well as other universities.