2008 Balzan Prize for the Science of Climate Change
Interview with Wallace Broecker, 2.10.2013
Wallace Broecker, Newberry Professor di Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University in New York. He is the scientist who actually invented the term “global warming” which as we know has had quite an impact on the study of climate and has opened many avenues of discussion about climate change.
The Balzan Prize which was awarded to him in 2008 for his scientific work on climate change has not come at the end of a career, Broecker is still at the forefront of the discussions about our climate and what avenues we can take to avoid calamity.
Balzan spoke with Broecker earlier this year about his project using the monies from Balzan. The general aim of Broecker’s Balzan Research Project was to determine whether paleoclimate record could support the prediction according to which, as the planet is warmed by fossil fuel CO2 precipitation will be more strongly focused on the Equator.
The research activities focused on data from different sources, including deep-sea sediments and closed-lake basin size, cave deposits and ice core records. Broecker supported three postdoctoral fellows.
«All three of my postdoctoral students now have permanent positions in the field: one is a professor in Singapore, another in Australia and the third at my institution, the Lamont Observatory at Columbia. All three were doing things that I’m vitally interested in. I’m 81 so it’s great for me,” Broecker noted. “Young students are the lifeblood of an institution and coming here to study was great for the three postdoctoral students and for me.»
What did you think when you heard that Kurt Lambeck had won the Balzan prize (In the field of Solid Earth Sciences) last year?
«Lambeck is very interested in past sea levels and how much ice melted during interglacial age. He and others have concluded that seas levels were much higher» he said.
Are you optimistic about the possibility for something to be done to reverse the damage done or to halt it in the near future?
«Not at all. We are now at 400 parts per million (ppm). We have never been above 280 ppm. In 1850, we were at 250 ppm and prior to that we were below that level for 50,000 years. Our models show that we are going to go to 600ppm and if we are very unlucky up to 800ppm. Since Kyoto we have gone up 30 ppm,» Broecker added.
Why is it increasing at such a fast rate and what can we do about it?
«Part of the reason is the industrialization of China, India and Brazil. They are building coal plants and burning fossil fuel. It is hard to get them to stop using fossil fuel because we don’t have a good alternative source of cheaper energy, which can fuel a nation, especially one of the developing world’s tigers. Of course they are going to use coal, oil and natural gas, just as we did before them and continue to do,» Broecker added.
What are you thinking about as a possible solution to the problem if we can’t regulate fossil fuel use?
«I met Klaus Lackner in 1999 and his big idea was to scrub the air of CO2. I was very impressed with his ideas. We are trying to create a way to capture CO2 and pull it out of the atmosphere. We are working on making prototypes of capturing devices but we need millions of them. In order to make and test them, it will take between 10-20 years but the clock is ticking. Gradually all of the CO2 goes into the ocean. We need to come up with a technical solution. This is a major issue and we need to face it now,» Broecker said.