Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Groundbreaking Scientist Who Popularized the Term ‘Global Warming’ Dies at 87

Climate
Groundbreaking Scientist Who Popularized the Term ‘Global Warming’ Dies at 87
Wallace Broecker gave a lecture "Dealing With the CO2 Crisis" at Columbia University in 2013. Columbia University / YouTube screenshot

Wallace Broecker, the groundbreaking scientist responsible for popularizing the term "global warming," died in New York Monday at the age of 87.

Broecker spent almost 67 years researching at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, which confirmed his death, Columbia's Earth Institute reported.


"One of the last of the giants of our field no longer walks among us," Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Director Sean Solomon wrote in an email to colleagues shared with NPR.

Global Warming

Broecker brought the term "global warming" into common usage with a 1975 paper titled "Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?" The paper argued that the impacts of carbon dioxide on the global climate were being obscured by a natural 40-year cooling period. Once the period ended, the impacts of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide would begin to be felt in earnest. Temperature increases since 1976 largely proved him correct.

"Wally was unique, brilliant and combative," Princeton University professor Michael Oppenheimer told the Associated Press. "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."

The Great Ocean Conveyor

Another one of Broecker's great climate-related achievements was describing how the circulation of warm and cold water through the earth's oceans helps regulate climate. Warm, shallow water travels from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean, around Africa and into the North Atlantic, where it hits cold water from the Arctic, sinks and returns to the Pacific. It then warms and restarts the motion, The Earth Institute explained.

Broecker realized that changes in the climate could disrupt this system, leading to dramatic climate shifts within decades. He theorized that a European deep freeze 12,000 years ago might have been caused by an initial warming trend that melted northern ice sheets and disrupted ocean circulation with cold water. He thought modern climate change could have similar consequences.

"The climate system is an angry beast, and we are poking it with sticks," he often said.

His ideas about rapid climate shifts inspired the 2004 film The Day After Tomorrow, although the movie's depiction is far from realistic.

Broecker was born in Chicago in 1931 and joined Columbia's faculty in 1959, according to The Associated Press. He was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1996, among other honors.

While colleagues have referred to him as the "grandfather of climate science" or the "father of global warming," he has rejected such titles for himself, saying other scientists have more claim to them, The New York Times reported.

"It is my hope that the title 'Father of Global Warming' does not appear on my tombstone," he once wrote, according to The New York Times.

He asked Lamont colleague and geochemist Sidney Hemming to scatter his ashes on the ocean during her next research trip, according to the Earth Institute.

A Conversation With My Grandfather, Wallace Broecker youtu.be


Radiation-contaminated water tanks and damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Feb. 25, 2016 in Okuma, Japan. Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

Japan will release radioactive wastewater from the failed Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean, the government announced on Tuesday.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier, aka the doomsday glacier, is seen here in 2014. NASA / Wikimedia Commons / CC0

Scientists have maneuvered an underwater robot beneath Antarctica's "doomsday glacier" for the first time, and the resulting data is not reassuring.

Read More Show Less
Trending
Journalists film a protest by the environmental organization BUND at the Datteln coal-fired power plant in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany on April 23, 2020. Bernd Thissen / picture alliance via Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

Lead partners of a global consortium of news outlets that aims to improve reporting on the climate emergency released a statement on Monday urging journalists everywhere to treat their coverage of the rapidly heating planet with the same same level of urgency and intensity as they have the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read More Show Less
Airborne microplastics are turning up in remote regions of the world, including the remote Altai mountains in Siberia. Kirill Kukhmar / TASS / Getty Images

Scientists consider plastic pollution one of the "most pressing environmental and social issues of the 21st century," but so far, microplastic research has mostly focused on the impact on rivers and oceans.

Read More Show Less
A laborer works at the site of a rare earth metals mine at Nancheng county, Jiangxi province, China on Oct. 7, 2010. Jie Zhao / Corbis via Getty Images

By Michel Penke

More than every second person in the world now has a cellphone, and manufacturers are rolling out bigger, better, slicker models all the time. Many, however, have a bloody history.

Read More Show Less