Obit: Wallace Broecker, 87, who coined “global warming”

From Columbia University Earth Institute

Wallace Broecker, a geochemist who initiated key research into the history of earth’s climate and humans’ influence upon it, died Feb. 18 in New York. He was 87. The cause was congestive heart failure, said his family. His death was confirmed by Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, where he spent a career that spanned nearly 67 years.

One of the first scientists to predict an imminent rise in earth’s temperature due to human output of carbon dioxide, Broecker was credited with introducing the phrase “global warming” into the scientific lexicon in the 1970s. Much of his work focused on the oceans. Among other things, his studies of marine chemistry helped lay out the map of global ocean circulation, and its powerful effects on climate. His studies also helped lay the basis for many other scientists’ work in a variety of fields. Not content to just do research, he made friends with and extended his influence to powerful figures in government and business.

Wallace Broecker, circa 2010 (Bruce Gilbert. Courtesy Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory)

Broecker—universally known as Wally—at first made an unlikely scientist. Born Nov. 29, 1931, the second of five children, he grew up in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Illinois. His father, also named Wallace, ran a gas station. His mother was the former Edith Smith. Both parents were evangelical Christians who rejected modern geologic theory for the literal Biblical interpretation that the earth is just a few thousand years old. They also forbade drinking, dancing and movies. Broecker attended Illinois’ fundamentalist Christian Wheaton College, then the recent alma mater of preacher Billy Graham. While still a student, he married the former Grace Carder, and spoke of becoming an insurance actuary.

Broecker got sidetracked after an older Wheaton student helped him arrange a summer 1952 lab internship at what was then called Lamont Geological Observatory, in Palisades, N.Y. The student was Paul Gast, who later went on to head NASA’s moon-rock program. At Lamont, Broecker worked with J. Laurence Kulp, a geochemist doing pioneering work on radiocarbon dating, a then revolutionary new method that allowed researchers to tell the ages of materials as far back as 40,000 years.

By his own account, Broecker had fun tinkering with the lab equipment, and he was excited by the newly wide-open chance to make discoveries about nature using carbon dating. He transferred to Columbia that fall and kept working with Kulp. The move suggested he had rejected at least some of his family’s religious beliefs; however, some other students made fun of his background, calling him a “theo-chemist.” While other students were sent on ocean research cruises, he was left off the list for his first eight years. Nevertheless, he earned a PhD. in geology in 1958 and stayed around, gradually rising to the first rank of prominence. In a 2016 memoir he called Lamont “my Garden of Eden.”

“My great joy in life comes in figuring something out,” he told The New York Times in 1998. “I figure something out about every six months or so, and I write about it and encourage research on it, and that’s the joy of my life.”

One of Broecker’s first achievements was a series of papers demolishing the stock idea that it took tens of thousands of years for water to circulate between shallow and deep regions of the world’s oceans. His analyses of carbon isotopes collected by Lamont ships from around the world showed that water could make the switch in just centuries—a discovery showed that the oceans are far more dynamic than previously thought. This in turn implied that the oceans could potentially affect the composition of the atmosphere, or vice-versa.

Using chemical tracers and other data, Broecker laid out the picture of global ocean circulation, and its implications for climate. (Courtesy Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory)

Starting in 1960, Broecker sailed on many of the world’s oceans and seas. In addition to sampling water, he maintained instruments, helped winch seafloor sediment cores to the surface, and threw dynamite overboard to produce explosions whose echoes were read to chart the bottom. In the 1970s, he co-led a global program funded by the U.S. government to use a wide variety of trace metals, nutrients and isotopes of radioactive elements to map the circulation of the deep ocean, the exchange of gases with the atmosphere, and other marine processes. This collective work provided the underpinnings for virtually all later studies of marine chemistry, and the oceans’ relationship to climate. It was Broecker who provided a running commentary for a documentary film on the project while on a cruise from Tahiti to San Diego. He used related geochemical methods to study lake waters, sediments and rocks in Canada and the American West for clues about climates of the past, with a special interest in the comings and goings of ice ages.

Early on, Broecker became interested in how the oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the air, and what effects this might have on climate. The history and behavior of atmospheric carbon dioxide were poorly known when he started out, but by the early 1970s, other researchers had analyzed ice cores from the Greenland ice and shown that they could track levels of atmospheric CO2 through the distant past. Work by others suggested that higher CO2 levels could be correlated with periods of warming. And scientists had speculated since the 19th century that rising output of human-produced CO2 could potentially warm the planet; some of Broecker’s contemporaries, including Charles Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, were already tracking CO2 levels in real time and considering the effects.

In August 1975, Broecker synthesized his and others’ related research in the journal Science in a piece called “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?” It was later said to be the first time the phrase was used in a scientific paper. In it, he argued that humans were changing the climate by emitting CO2; it just wasn’t evident yet, because the world was experiencing what he believed was a natural 40-year cooling cycle that was masking the effects. He predicted that the cycle would soon reverse, and then the manmade warming on top of that would become dramatically visible. It later turned out that he had misinterpreted some of the ice-core data, but had the overall picture right. Right on cue in 1976, temperatures started ascending, and have continued since then pretty much along the trajectory Broecker laid out.

Receiving the National Medal of Science from President Bill Clinton, 1996 (Courtesy Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory)

“Global warming” was quickly adopted by the science world, including in the first large-scale report on the subject, published in 1979 by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Decades later, when some credited Broecker with coining the phrase, he shrugged it off as “dumb luck.” He warned that he would turn over in his grave if someone put “global warming” on his tombstone. He once offered $200 to any student who could find an earlier citation for the phrase. (One postgrad did find it in a 1958 editorial in the Hammond Times of Indiana. It apparently didn’t catch on at that time.)

Broecker and a handful of other scientists began briefing government leaders on climate change in the 1980s. He testified at the first congressional hearings dealing with the subject, led in 1984 by then Tennessee Representative Al Gore. Over succeeding years, as the science advanced, Gore and other politicians repeatedly met with and consulted Broecker to have him explain.

In the mid-1980s Broecker synthesized a grand picture of world ocean circulation, based on his and others’ studies. He dubbed it “The Great Ocean Conveyor.” In simplest terms, it is a vast river of warm, shallow water flowing from the south Pacific into the Indian Ocean, rounding Africa and then heading north through the Atlantic. Once it hits cold water from the Arctic, the water then cools and sinks near northern Europe. From there, it loops through the abyss back to the Pacific to warm, rise and begin the cycle again. The flow is so huge, Broecker asserted, that it must help regulate global climate by moving around vast amounts of heat from one place to another. This idea soon became general consensus.

College graduation (Courtesy Columbia University)

Broecker then put forth the idea that the conveyor could suddenly switch on and off, leading to drastic climate shifts–not over millennia, as many had come to think, but perhaps just decades. He pointed to an apparently rapid cooling some 12,000 years ago that threw Europe and other regions into a temporary deep freeze. Paradoxically, he argued, the cause might have been a then-warming climate and the collapse of northern ice sheets, which introduced a pulse of freshwater that pushed back on the conveyor. He warned that “the uncontrolled experiment” of modern human-induced warming might bring similar rapid changes. He was fond of saying, “The climate system is an angry beast, and we are poking it with sticks.”

Climatologists are still debating whether and how rapid climate swings might take place today. That notwithstanding, Broecker’s ideas were taken up and wildly exaggerated in the 2004 movie The Day After Tomorrow, which featured a climate-change-powered tsunami engulfing Manhattan and then freezing into an ice sheet–all in the same day. They were more credibly explained in possibly the only pop song about physical oceanography, “Uncle Wally’s Tale,” by the singer Tom Chapin. (Chapin was Broecker’s brother-in-law, married to Broecker’s younger sister, Bonnie.)

Much more at the full obituary here

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Bryan A
February 19, 2019 12:25 pm

I was truly expecting the blame for his demise to ba placed squarely on Global Warming.
May he rest…

Chuck S
Reply to  Bryan A
February 20, 2019 1:10 am

The only thing I see of value from this guy is he sailed the oceans chucking dynamite overboard. I’m not sure that’s the best way to save the whales or dolphins but it sounds like fun. I did the same thing with M-80s on spring break in Cozumel. I told the Police I was mapping the bottom of the bay then one of them took out his night stick and whacked me.

Scott M
Reply to  Chuck S
February 20, 2019 5:53 pm

Good way to go fishing

Bill Powers
Reply to  Bryan A
February 20, 2019 12:44 pm

My first thought exactly. Stay tuned the story just broke. I am sure there are journalist diligently working the narrative. They might possibly have this pinned on Global Warming before Wallace is laid to rest or sprinkled over the “warm shallow waters”

Scott M
Reply to  Bryan A
February 20, 2019 5:52 pm

Me too, thought he might have froze to death

February 19, 2019 12:25 pm

I refuse to be a jerk.

The Church of perpetual warming may stoop that low, but I won’t.

Dave Fair
February 19, 2019 12:37 pm

Kudos to an accomplished guy.

Too bad others took his work and speculated about significant water vapor feedback accelerating global warming.

Grant A. Brown
Reply to  Dave Fair
February 19, 2019 10:15 pm

My thought exactly. How can this guy be a hero of the current global warming crowd when the mechanism he proposed for run-away global warming was completely different from what the IPCC now claims? Ocean current changes are not water vapor feedbacks – but any conjecture will do as long as the conclusion is the same….

February 19, 2019 12:37 pm

RIP Dr. Broecker.

D Anderson
February 19, 2019 12:40 pm

Gee Wally, global warming’s pretty hard on the Beavers isn’t it?

Joel O'Bryan
February 19, 2019 12:42 pm

“In August 1975, Broecker synthesized his and others’ related research in the journal Science in a piece called “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?” It was later said to be the first time the phrase was used in a scientific paper. In it, he argued that humans were changing the climate by emitting CO2; it just wasn’t evident yet, because the world was experiencing what he believed was a natural 40-year cooling cycle that was masking the effects. He predicted that the cycle would soon reverse, and then the manmade warming on top of that would become dramatically visible. It later turned out that he had misinterpreted some of the ice-core data, but had the overall picture right. Right on cue in 1976, temperatures started ascending, and have continued since then pretty much along the trajectory Broecker laid out.

The IPCC AR’s have consistently tried to pin most of the 1979-2016 warming on increasing CO2 forcing with models that cannot adequately represent that internal cycle. But in reality, the IPCC and modeller community have not a clue what are the relative contributions between natural cycle and increased GHG concentrations. We are about to find out in the coming decade. The experiment is about to yield some relevant data points, and I doubt the climateers are not going to like what nature gives them.

The window of opportunity the climate charlatans were banking on has now closed on the CO2-climate hustle.

“Science advances one funeral at a time.”
― Max Planck

Dave Fair
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
February 19, 2019 2:22 pm

The UN IPCC climate modelers introduced aerosol to keep their models from ‘overshooting’ warming during Wally’s global cooling period. And the correct position is …?

Rich Davis
Reply to  Dave Fair
February 19, 2019 5:09 pm

Didn’t you hear? China and India are bringing back aerosols, just in time for the coming natural cooling to be explained as man-made.

Dave Fair
Reply to  Rich Davis
February 19, 2019 5:36 pm

Since the UN IPCC climate models can’t duplicate the early 20th Century warming, I won’t believe any of their excuses for cooling the near future, if it happens.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Dave Fair
February 19, 2019 6:23 pm

Have no fear. Whatever happens will be blamed on burning fossil fuel. And capitalism. And the urgent need to eliminate same.

Every change will be a portent of impending doom. If you think that four decades of moderating, improving weather and increasing crop yields has been an unmitigated disaster, what will four decades of cooling be?

Their voodoo religion is not amenable to falsification.

Reply to  Rich Davis
February 21, 2019 1:57 am

Rich Davis,

Sulfur aerosols indeed are the main cooling antagonists against the warming of CO2 and other GHGs. They are the main “control knob” to get the pas more or less retrofitted, with a range of 1:3 for the future warming. There are many other control knobs in climate models (like clouds), but the cooling aerosols and warming CO2 are the main ones:

February 19, 2019 12:45 pm

It’s been said that the greatness of any scientist can be measured by how much they held back the advancement of their field. So I think Dr. Broeker definitely qualifies as great. Not as great as Aristotle, but a giant among his generation.

Reply to  MikeP
February 19, 2019 8:57 pm

…. and he was already pre-named Wally

(NOTE: You may have to be from the UK to understand that).

ferd berple
February 19, 2019 12:49 pm

theory of global warming: increased co2 causes warming

theory of climate change: fossil fuel is destroying the earth

Anything that reduces CO2 will solve global warming, but we can only solve climate change by eliminating all fossil fuels.

Reply to  ferd berple
February 19, 2019 12:58 pm

Their target is carbon, not limited to CO2 and hydrocarbon fuels. They also have a wicked solution, to an albeit hard [social] problem, that cannibalizes and sequesters undesirable carbon-based lifeforms, notably human.

February 19, 2019 12:55 pm

Global warming, or rather, local and, perhaps, regional effects, as in a natural phenomenon, yes. But not Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming, a statistical quantity, that is correlated with models, and divergent from reality.

Bruce Cobb
February 19, 2019 12:57 pm

There’s a huge difference in being wrong, scientifically, and being dishonest. He was simply wrong, at least about CO2, not the oceans. But Warmism became an ideology, and an industry, rife with dishonesty, and only concerned with self-perpetuation.

February 19, 2019 12:59 pm

Interesting man. I was vaguely familiar with his work when WUWT would post articles on the ‘conveyor belt’, or possibilities of rapid climate changes. He was mentioned in those regards.

That’s a nice outline of his life and career. It’s a shame such a nice write-up happened to be his obituary, but we all have to leave sometime and 87 years old isn’t exactly an early exit.

Dave Fair
Reply to  H.R.
February 19, 2019 2:32 pm

Dr. Broecker’s “… possibilities of rapid climate changes.” was based on assessment of the effects of massive influxes of cold, pure water released over a relatively short period through melting of the massive Northern Hemisphere ice sheets, disrupting then-extant ocean circulations. What are the odds of that happening with current ice volumes?

Reply to  Dave Fair
February 21, 2019 2:22 am

Dave Fair,
The possibility of a huge influx of fresh water is practically non-existent. It happened a few times in the past at the end of a glacial period, when a lot of ice was melted, but still hold in a huge lake (Lake Agasiz) after an ice dam. When that dam broke, enormous quantities of fresh water were shed into the North Atlantic in less than a few years, interrupting the Great Conveyor Belt for about 1000 years. That may be the cause of the Younger Dryas:
and the 8.2 kyear event:

As there are no such huge ice sheets present anymore, the possibility of a similar event today is non-existent. Even the summer melt of sea-ice doesn’t stop the Gulf Stream, only gives a seasonal variability:

Joel Snider
February 19, 2019 1:01 pm

I will take this moment to point out how long we’ve all been arguing about this subject.
And the world’s still here.

I honestly hope to see this issue put to bed, before I myself follow Mr. Broecker – but I’m beginning to have my doubts – I think I’m running out of time faster than the Earth is.

February 19, 2019 1:05 pm

Tough material to work with but that song is no 30,000 Pounds of Bananas. And no I won’t give you a brake.

February 19, 2019 1:15 pm


George Daddis
February 19, 2019 1:20 pm

Right on cue in 1976, temperatures started ascending, and have continued since then pretty much along the trajectory Broecker laid out.

Dr. Broecker was clearly a trailblazing scientist. The bloke from Columbia’s Earth Science Institute – not so much. Apparently he slept through the recent “pause”.

Dave Fair
Reply to  George Daddis
February 19, 2019 2:38 pm

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, George. Dr. Broecker’s cyclic cooling could have influenced the Pause. Then again, the UN IPCC climate models may just need tuning adjustments to curve-follow the past (our present) in future runs. Who knows? Got a Trillion dollars to bet on it?

George Daddis
Reply to  Dave Fair
February 19, 2019 4:41 pm

Dave, we are on the same wavelength.

My standard answer to those who challenge me for being skeptical of those certain about CAGW, and who want to know my position on future temperatures, or what causes “Climate Change” my response is “We just don’t know.”

I am amazed at how many people are incapable of accepting that answer!

My point in the above comment centered on observable data of past events and feel comfortable chastising the ESI author.

Mumbles McGuirck
February 19, 2019 1:29 pm

It later turned out that he had misinterpreted some of the ice-core data, but had the overall picture right. Right on cue in 1976, temperatures started ascending, and have continued since then pretty much along the trajectory Broecker laid out.

What a concatenation of weasel words. He had bad data, but the ‘overall picture’ correct. Temperatures are ‘pretty much’ what he predicted, except they aren’t. They just yaddah-yaddahed the whole part of what was wrong in his global warming theory. They continue to whistle past the graveyard, not daring to look the truth in the face.

Crispin in Waterloo
Reply to  Mumbles McGuirck
February 19, 2019 2:47 pm

I agree with Mumbles

It says “pretty much” meaning, “for 20 years and then not at all”. Now we are more than 20 years after the pause started. That means “more wrong than right but a reasonable guess given the information available at the time.”

Reply to  Mumbles McGuirck
February 19, 2019 8:52 pm

To Dr. Broecker’s credit, he authored a chapter in AAPG’s Geological Perspectives of Global Climate Change

Chapter 4

Are We Headed for a Thermohaline Catastrophe?
Wallace S. Broecker

He closed his chapter with a reference to Gerard Bond’s work on Holocene climate cycles and acknowledged that the threat of a “Thermohaline Catastrophe” might be far less than he originally thought it was.

February 19, 2019 1:31 pm

“Much of his work focused on the oceans. Among other things, his studies of marine chemistry helped lay out the map of global ocean circulation, and its powerful effects on climate.”


Dave Fair
Reply to  ResourceGuy
February 19, 2019 2:41 pm

OK, ResourceGuy; the extra heat is hiding below the North Atlantic surface? Lets ask Trenberth.

Reply to  Dave Fair
February 20, 2019 6:07 am

Let’s look and see for ourselves…..

Dave Fair
Reply to  ResourceGuy
February 20, 2019 10:44 pm

Through 2014 and 2018 the oceans lost a lot of heat, partially due to the Pacific Warm Blob and the Super El Nino.

William Astley
February 19, 2019 1:31 pm

Wally was the creator of the legend that an interruption to the North Atlantic Drift current (aka Gulf Stream) was part of the solution to what caused the Younger Dryas abrupt cooling (12,900 years BP), at which time the planet when from interglacial warm to glacial cold, when solar insolation at 65N was at its maximum, for 1200 years (Ice sheets returned to UK).
Later it was found the pulse of fresh water occurred 1000 years after the YD event. No correlation, no cause.
Later it was found that there is no discrete deep water current to interrupt.
Later someone ran a model and wrote papers stating that the majority of the winter warming of Europe is due to the Westerly winds and the heat retained in the North Atlantic ocean from summer heating.
The UK and the east coast of Europe are warm in the winter for the same reason that the west coast of the US is roughly 10 C warmer in the winter than the east coast of the US. An interruption to the North Atlantic drift current would therefore would only result in winter cooling on the east coast of Europe of roughly 2C.

The familiar model of Atlantic ocean currents that shows a discrete “conveyor belt” of deep, cold water flowing southward from the Labrador Sea is probably all wet.
But studies in the 1990s using submersible floats that followed underwater currents “showed little evidence of southbound export of Labrador sea water within the Deep Western Boundary Current (DWBC),” said the new Nature report.
Scientists challenged those earlier studies, however, in part because the floats had to return to the surface to report their positions and observations to satellite receivers. That meant the floats’ data could have been “biased by upper ocean currents when they periodically ascended,” the report added.
To address those criticisms, Lozier and Bower launched 76 special Range and Fixing of Sound floats into the current south of the Labrador Sea between 2003 and 2006. Those “RAFOS” floats could stay submerged at 700 or 1,500 meters depth and still communicate their data for a range of about 1,000 kilometers using a network of special low frequency and amplitude seismic signals.

But only 8 percent of the RAFOS floats’ followed the conveyor belt of the Deep Western Boundary Current, according to the Nature report. About 75 percent of them “escaped” that coast-hugging deep underwater pathway and instead drifted into the open ocean by the time they rounded the southern tail of the Grand Banks.
Eight percent “is a remarkably low number in light of the expectation that the DWBC is the dominant pathway for Labrador Sea Water,” the researchers wrote.

There is no worldwide discrete thermal thermohaline conveyer that tightly connects the Southern hemisphere with the Northern hemisphere. Wally stated later that there is no data to support the thermal conveyer diagram he drew and later stated that his drawing of a discrete worldwide conveyor was only to illustrate a ‘concept’, the concept being it is possible to make up stuff and if the stuff is repeated a sufficient number of time it becomes a sort of belief, a urban legend.

This is Wally’s Conveyor Urban legend paper, complete with the elementary school picture drawing that illustrates the deep climatology concept (urban legend no logic to justify the statement) that ‘climate’ is an angry beast.

What If the Conveyor Were to Shut Down? Reflections on a
Possible Outcome of the Great Global Experiment

One must keep in mind that as the physics of mode changes is so poorly understood, diagrams such as that in Figure 3 are unlikely to portray what would happen if the Earth system were to undergo a mode switch. The consequences of such a change defy prediction.

William: Translation, paleo climatology is chock full of urban legends. Paleo climatologists have no clue what causes the glacial/interglacial cycle and what causes cyclic abrupt climate change. Paleo climatologists have spent 20 years getting proxy data and analyzing proxy data and creating urban legend mechanisms, such as the earth has a tendency to ‘jump’ from one state to another.

But wouldn’t predictions based on conveyor shutdowns carried out in linked ocean-atmosphere climate models be more informative than analogies to past changes? I would contend that to date no model is up to the task. No one under-stands what is required to cool Greenland by 16 °C and the tropics by 4 ± 1 °C, to lower mountain snowlines by 900 m, to create an ice sheet covering much of North America, to reduce the atmosphere’s CO2 content by 30%, or to raise the dust rain in many parts of Earth by an order of magnitude. If these changes were not documented in the climate record, they would never enter the minds of the climate dynamics community. Models that purportedly simulate glacial climates do so only because key boundary conditions are prescribed (the size and elevation of the ice sheets, sea ice extent, sea surface temperatures, atmospheric CO2 content, etc.). In addition, some of these models have sensitivities whose magnitude many would challenge. What the paleoclimatic record tells us is that Earth’s climate system is capable of jumping from one mode of operation to another. These modes are self-sustaining and involve major differences in mean global temperature, in rain-fall pattern, and in atmospheric dustiness.

In my estimation, we lack even a first-order explanation as to how the various elements of the Earth system interact to generate these alternate modes.

The following are two papers that show Wally’s Gulf stream/North Atlantic drift current changes/shutdown is an urban legend, that is repeated ad infinitum by the media and the CAGW cult.

The Source of Europe’s Mild Climate
The notion that the Gulf Stream is responsible for keeping Europe anomalously warm turns out to be a myth. If you grow up in England, as I did, a few items of unquestioned wisdom are passed down to you from the preceding generation. Along with stories of a plucky island race with a glorious past and the benefits of drinking unbelievable quantities of milky tea, you will be told that England is blessed with its pleasant climate courtesy of the Gulf Stream, that huge current of warm water that flows northeast across the Atlantic from its source in the Gulf of Mexico. That the Gulf Stream is responsible for Europe’s mild winters is widely known and accepted, but, as I will show, it is nothing more than the earth-science equivalent of an urban legend.

Is the Gulf Stream responsible for Europe’s mild winters?
It is widely believed by scientists and lay people alike that the transport of warm water north in the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Drift, and its release to the atmosphere, is a major reason why western Europe’s winters are so much milder (as much as 15–20 degC) than those of eastern North America (Fig. 1). The idea appears to have been popularized by M. F. Maury in his book The physical geography of the sea and its meteorology (1855) which went through many printings in the United States and the British Isles and was translated into three languages. ….
….In conclusion, while OHT warms winters on both sides of the North Atlantic Ocean by a few degC, the much larger temperature difference across the ocean, and that between the maritime areas of north-western Europe and western North America, are explained by the interaction between the atmospheric circulation and seasonal storage and release of heat by the ocean. Stationary waves greatly strengthen the temperature contrast across the North Atlantic and are themselves heavily influenced by the net effect of orography. In contrast, transport of heat by the ocean has a minor influence on the wintertime zonal asymmetries of temperature. Even in the zonal mean, OHT has a small effect compared to those of seasonal heat storage and release by the ocean and atmospheric heat transport. In retrospect these conclusions may seem obvious, but we are unaware of any published explanation of why winters in western Europe are mild that does not invoke poleward heat transport by the ocean as an important influence that augments its maritime climate.

February 19, 2019 1:37 pm

He didn’t think much of mann.

“The goddam guy is a slick talker and super-confident. He won’t listen to anyone else,” one of climate science’s most senior figures, Wally Broecker of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York, told me. “I don’t trust people like that. A lot of the data sets he uses are shitty, you know. They are just not up to what he is trying to do…. If anyone deserves to get hit it is goddam Mann.”

Reply to  icisil
February 19, 2019 2:12 pm


Thank you.

Reply to  ResourceGuy
February 19, 2019 2:49 pm
Reply to  ResourceGuy
February 19, 2019 2:51 pm

That also explains Penn State. It’s a perfect fit for him.

Chris Hanley
February 19, 2019 1:53 pm

In retrospect it was apparent in 1975 that “humans were changing the climate by emitting CO2”:
comment image
Back then it would have been more reasonable to argue — and was argued — that human emissions were cooling the climate.

Chris Hanley
Reply to  Chris Hanley
February 19, 2019 2:16 pm

That is if you were determined to infer from the available data any human agency at all.

Dave Fair
Reply to  Chris Hanley
February 19, 2019 2:45 pm

That illustrates the value of using ‘in retrospect’ when trying to sell your expertise, Chris.

Chris Hanley
Reply to  Dave Fair
February 19, 2019 3:09 pm

My “expertise”? 😂

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Chris Hanley
February 19, 2019 3:46 pm

I believe Dave was referring to “Wally”.

Dave Fair
Reply to  Chris Hanley
February 19, 2019 4:15 pm

I should have used ‘one’ instead of ‘your,’ Chris.

February 19, 2019 2:09 pm

Over all a good scientist. There was confusion as to just what the Vosstok ice core said. Al Gore took the initial readings which appeared to link temperature to CO2, as in his film, but we now know that its the reverse, first there is a rise in temperature, then the vast Oceans out gas the stored CO2.


February 19, 2019 2:54 pm

A good scientist, and a good oceanographer. However most of his important hypotheses are wrong. The salt-oscillator hypothesis is wrong. The AMOC shutdown is wrong.

His hypotheses were behind the movie “The day after tomorrow.” A laughable attempt at scary anthropogenic climate change.

Rest in peace, but his scientific stature will likely diminish over time.

Dave Fair
Reply to  Javier
February 19, 2019 3:00 pm

His scientific stature will never diminish, Javier. The body of his empirical work will live on, as is his due as a pioneering scientist.

Reply to  Dave Fair
February 19, 2019 3:15 pm

He is being labeled as the father of global warming by the press. He is tied in destiny with the global warming scare. And as I have said many of his theories are clearly wrong.

For example:
The fact that we are unable to provide satisfactory estimates of the probability that a conveyor shutdown will occur or of its consequences is certainly reason to be extremely prudent with regard to CO2 emissions. The record of events that transpired during the last glacial period sends us the clear warning that by adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, we are poking an angry beast (Fig. 5).”

What a silly notion. It is almost infantile. As infantile as the drawing in figure 5 at the link.

Really, Dr. Broecker?

Dr. Strangelove
Reply to  Javier
February 20, 2019 4:31 am

For all his faults, he was the best scientist the warmists had. Compared to those he left behind: Mann, Schmidt, Hansen, Holdren, Oreskes, Rahmstorf, etc. Clowns Hall of Shame

Reply to  Dr. Strangelove
February 20, 2019 6:32 am

Plenty of good scientists among believers. 6 out of 10 scientists are convinced of the dangers of global warming. Thinking that good scientists are skeptics and bad scientists are believers is incorrect thinking, obviously.

Broecker was a good scientist, but if your main theories are bonkers, you can’t be a great scientist.

February 19, 2019 3:12 pm

Rest in peace.

michael hart
February 19, 2019 3:47 pm

So he started going gung-ho on the global-warming theme in the 1970’s, and then came up with some theories about how the world’s ocean currents move in the 1980’s.

Horse-Cart. Cart-Horse.

Smart Rock
February 19, 2019 4:00 pm

He put together a lot of data and came to the conclusion that the Younger Dryas was caused by a big slug of meltwater from Lake Agassiz shutting down the surface layer of the “ocean conveyor” in the North Atlantic. I read some of his stuff at the time and it was obvious that the “sudden climate change” he spoke about was local and specific to western Europe only. The “sudden” onset of the YD took about 50 years (not 3 weeks like in the silly movie) and the recovery was equally sudden.

He made the point that the deeper part of the ocean circulation continued during the YD and that the rest of the world didn’t get to experience a thousand years of cold. He hypothesized that when the “ocean conveyor” really stopped, we would see the start of the next glacial period. IIRC he theorized that the “ocean conveyor” was transporting CO2 to the deep ocean where it would get sequestered, and falling levels of atmospheric CO2 would bring on the big-time cooling.

He almost certainly got the CO2 part wrong, but it wasn’t a bad idea at the time.

The timing of the YD and Lake Agassiz draining almost certainly don’t match, but the sudden breaching of an ice dam that allowed the level of Lake Superior to drop more than 100 metres, to more or less its present level, in a few years might be a better choice for the onset of the YD.

Wally Broecker, good scientist, collected data, generated theories, didn’t get carried away by silly ideas about the end of the world.

Gunga Din
February 19, 2019 4:27 pm

Many “coined phrases” have been warped by those who came after.
I don’t know if he would endorsed what how his phrase has been used or if he’d be “rolling in his grave”.
Either way, condolences to his family and his friends.

Bryan A
Reply to  Gunga Din
February 19, 2019 5:11 pm

Probably because every coined phrase has someone else’s two cents worth added in

Michael Singleton
February 19, 2019 6:17 pm

Saw him at a Columbia Earth Institute event, an IPCC working group meeting. He was definitely not comfortable with the way he was being “used” by the climate change band wagon.

February 19, 2019 6:28 pm

It was German researcher Hermann Flohn (1912-97) who gave us Global Warming. The 1930’s were a warm period before Global Cooling began in the 40’s. Germany as a nation was very into sustainable development and preserving resources due to shortages. The first Green Economy

Flohn published an article on global warming titled, “The Activity of Man as a Climate Factor” before the War.

Flohn was the Luftwaffe’s chief meteorologist . After the war, Flohn continued with the CO2 global warming scare claiming it as more dangerous than nuclear energy. Operation Paperclip, when the Green SS and scientists were imported into the United States to help compete in the Cold War likely imported these ideas, among others

A G Foster
February 19, 2019 7:34 pm
February 19, 2019 8:43 pm

A good scientist, who got some stuff wrong as it turns out. Thanks ‘William Astley” for your post clearing up some of this.

“The notion that the Gulf Stream is responsible for keeping Europe anomalously warm turns out to be a myth”

For example here is Richard Lindzen correcting Bill Nye on this misconception.

February 19, 2019 10:02 pm

Broecker’s role in the global warming scare is indeed underrated these days. He was not alone in forecasting possible warming during the 1970s cooling scare – other scientists did so to effect moderation of that scare (eg J Murray Mitchell). Rather, his was a lonely voice at the tail end of the cooling scare (around 1980) in warning of a catastrophe due to CO2 warming. He pushed the idea that the climate system is inherently unstable, that it is in a fragile balance easily tipped by our prodding. And when it did fall over, it could go any way–warming, cooling or chaotic. Thus, he was an early promoter of the movement for “climate conservation” and the durable (because unfalsifiable) scare over “climate disruption” — which has outlived the scare over warming per sue. He exemplified the possibility of instability on speculation about his ‘conveyor belt’ and the Younger Dryas cooling. This speculation ushered in the complete corruption of climate science discourse in all its emotion-ladened enthusiasm, when in 1999 we find a scientific expert suggesting that the climate system could react emotionally to our provocation, like some beastly god of the skies:

The record of events that transpired during the last glacial period sends us the clear warning that by adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, we are poking an angry beast.

GSA Today; 9(1): 2–5

John Dowser
February 19, 2019 10:34 pm

Without doubt a brilliant and respected scientist passed away. However, it just needs to be said, that the phrase “global warming” and the earliest warnings of potential doom came from a creationist “theo-chemist”, assuming he kept to his early beliefs to some degree. And that might be not entirely coincidence.

One can only love Broecker’s expression: “the climate system is an angry beast, and we are poking it with sticks” not only because of the image of a hockey sticks poking but the idea of the climate as a high energy, volatile beast, in other words unpredictable, changing, unreliable and dangerous in various ways when it crosses your path. And climate theories are attempt to control and predict this beast, refusing to believe it might hold more secrets?

It matters not in the end if a climate scientist was a Christian or not. What does matter or would help our understanding, is the realization that our Western society is definitely raised on very strong, fundamental beliefs about the End Times, the Millennium, various disasters arranged by God or Devil and even witchcraft. And I think, no matter what one personally believes or not, modern scientists would still have a subtle but powerful group bias of projecting doom and gloom into the future especially when we can link it to your own actions or at least actions of others, of sin.

February 20, 2019 2:06 am

How apt his Christian name – what a “Wally” !! Apologies to the dead.

old white guy
February 20, 2019 4:11 am

His carbon footprint has been reduced significantly.

George DeBusk
February 21, 2019 7:39 am

Wally Broeker was one of my scientific heroes before I left Academia for good. His hypothesis about the global deep water conveyor was one of the few good candidates for the pacemaker of ice ages. I still feel the North Atlantic is the crux of the issue and that the conveyor plays an important role, though I now suspect cloud dynamics may be as or even more important than the conveyor (or perhaps I should say another link in the chain). I always regretted that the politics of “Global Climate Change” and its CO2 obsession moved the scientific inquiry and the funding that steers said inquiry away from things like the conveyor and towards trying to bolster modern climate change theories. I felt we were on the brink of an understanding of the climate dynamics of ice ages around 1994 and we just let it slip away . . .

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