Scientist who popularized the term “global warming” dies at 87

Posted at 5:59 PM, Feb 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-18 19:59:46-05
Wallace Broecker
Wallace Broecker headshot, Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, New York (AP images)

NEW YORK – A scientist who raised early alarms about climate change and popularized the term “global warming” has died. Wallace Smith Broecker was 87.

The longtime Columbia University professor and researcher died Monday at a New York City hospital, according to a spokesman for the university’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Broecker brought “global warming” into common use with a 1975 article that correctly predicted rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere would lead to pronounced warming.

He later became the first person to recognize what he called the Ocean Conveyor Belt, a global network of currents affecting everything from air temperature to rain patterns.

“Wally was unique, brilliant and combative. 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,” Michael Oppenheimer, Princeton University professor, said.

Broecker received the National Medal of Science in 1996 and was a member of the National Academy of Science.

Broecker was born in Chicago in 1931, growing up in suburban Oak Park.

He joined Columbia’s faculty in 1959, spending most of his time at the university’s laboratory. He was known in science circles as the “Grandfather of Climate Science” and the “Dean of Climate Scientists.”

“His discoveries were fundamental to interpreting Earth’s climate history,” said Oppenheimer. “No scientist was more stimulating to engage with: he was an instigator in a good way, willing to press unpopular ideas, like lofting particles to offset climate change. But it was always a two-way conversation, never dull, always educational. I’ll miss him.”

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)