NEW YORK (AP) – A scientist who had sounded the alarm about climate change and popularized the term "global warming" has died. Wallace Smith Broecker was 87 years old.
Long-time professor and researcher at Columbia University died Monday in a hospital in New York City, according to a spokesman for the university's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Kevin Krajick said Broecker was sick in recent months.
Broecker has generalized the use of "global warming" in a 1975 article that correctly predicts that increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would result in pronounced warming. He then became the first person to recognize what he called the oceanic treadmill, a global network of currents that affected everything from air temperature to rain diets.
"Wally was unique, brilliant and combative," said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor at Princeton University. "He was not fooled by the cooling of the 1970s. He clearly saw unprecedented warming manifest and clearly expressed his point of view, even when few people were willing to listen. "
In the oceanic conveyor belt, the cold, salty water of the North Atlantic flows in the manner of a diver who leads the ocean current from North America to Europe. The warm surface waters supported by this current help maintain the mild European climate.
Otherwise, he said, Europe would be frozen, with the average winter temperature dropping at least 20 degrees Fahrenheit and London looking more like Spitsbergen, Norway, located 600 km north of the circle. Arctic polar.
Broecker said his studies suggested that the conveyor was the "Achilles heel of the climate system" and a fragile phenomenon that could change quickly for reasons not understood. It would only need a slight increase in temperature to prevent water from sinking in the North Atlantic, which would have the effect of putting the conveyor to a halt. Broecker said it was possible that the warming caused by the accumulation of greenhouse gases is enough to affect ocean currents dramatically.
"Broecker alone has popularized the idea that this could lead to a dramatic climate change" shift "and, more generally, Broecker has helped to communicate to the public and policymakers the potential for abrupt climate change and" "unexpected" surprises resulting from the climate. change, "said Michael Mann, professor at Penn State.
In 1984, Broecker told a House subcommittee that the build-up of greenhouse gases justified a "new, bold national effort to understand the functioning of the areas of the atmosphere, the oceans, ice and the terrestrial biosphere ".
"We live in a climate system that can jump from one state to another," Broecker told the Associated Press in 1997. By releasing huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, such as the carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, conduct an experiment that could have devastating effects. "
"We are playing with an angry beast – a climate system that has turned out to be very sensitive," he said.
Broecker was awarded the National Science Medal in 1996 and was a member of the National Academy of Science. He also held the position of research coordinator for Biosphere 2, an experimental laboratory for the living environment.
Broecker was born in Chicago in 1931 and grew up in the suburbs of Oak Park.
He joined the Columbia faculty in 1959, where he spent most of his time at the university's laboratory in Palisades, NY. He was known in scientific circles as the 'grandfather of climate science' and the 'dean of climate scientists'.
"His discoveries have been fundamental in interpreting the history of the Earth's climate," said Oppenheimer. "No scientist was so stimulating: he was a good instigator, ready to argue unpopular ideas, such as removing particles to offset climate change. But it was always a two-way conversation, never boring, always educational. I will miss him. "