Wallace Broecker

2008 Balzan Prize for the Science of Climate Change

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.

Wallace Broecker (*1931 – †2019) was among the first scientists to draw attention, more than 30 years ago, to the fact that current climate change deviates from previsions patterns in the geological record.

He has tackled fundamental scientific problems related to climate change from very different angles, contributing enormously to our understanding of ocean processes as agents of long-term climate change, while also advocating concerns about the global consequences of ongoing human perturbations of the climate system.

His discoveries have improved our knowledge of the global carbon cycle and of the processes that tightly link natural climate variability to concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Wallace Broecker has also provided a foundation for understanding both physical and biogeochemical processes that control the ocean carbon cycle and, therefore, the ocean’s role in regulating concentrations of carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas, in the atmosphere. He has pioneered the study of gas exchange processes that control the partitioning of carbon dioxide and other gases across the air-sea interface, as well as research on the physical processes that transport carbon throughout the internal regions of the ocean.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Wallace Broecker offered an explanation for abrupt changes in the Earth’s climate. He suggested that they could arise as a result of sudden changes, associated with salinity changes, in patterns of ocean circulation, referred to as the “ocean conveyer belt”. These ideas are especially pertinent in relation to the melting of ice caps.

He has also written a number of books, some of which have been used to educate a generation of students in chemical oceanography, while others have been explicitly designed to inform about the causes of global warming.

Wallace Broecker is Newberry Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University and member of the U.S. Academy of Sciences.

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