Ivy Leaguer Who Coined ‘Global Warming’ Has Died

NEW YORK (AP) — 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 wasn’t fooled by the cooling of the 1970s”

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,” said Princeton University professor Michael Oppenheimer.

“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.”

In the Ocean Conveyor Belt, cold, salty water in the North Atlantic sinks, working like a plunger to drive an ocean current from near North America to Europe.

Warm surface waters borne by this current help keep Europe’s climate mild.

Otherwise, he said, Europe would be a deep freeze, with average winter temperatures dropping by 20 degrees Fahrenheit or more and London feeling more like Spitsbergen, Norway, which is 600 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Broecker said his studies suggested that the conveyor is the “Achilles heel of the climate system” and a fragile phenomenon that can change rapidly for reasons not understood.

It would take only a slight rise in temperature to keep water from sinking in the North Atlantic, he said, and that would bring the conveyor to a halt.

Broecker said it is possible that warming caused by the buildup of greenhouse gases could be enough to affect the ocean currents dramatically. Read more. 

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