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Wally S. Broecker 1931-2019

Climate scientist and former Wheaton student dies at age of 87


By Benjamin Hess

Wally S. Broecker, known the “Grandfather of Climate Science,” passed away on Monday, Feb. 18 at the age of 87. Broeker, who studied at Wheaton College in the 1950s helped lay the foundation for modern climate science, especially chemical oceanography. He is most famous for discovering that the thermohaline cycle that controls global ocean circulation can abruptly stop, which has had a massive impact on past earth climates. For this work, he was awarded the Vetlesen Prize in 1987 which is essentially the Nobel prize for the earth sciences. Furthermore, he was one of the first to popularize the term “global warming” when he published his paper, “Climate Change: Are we on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?” in 1975. His work stands as a pillar for all modern natural and human-caused climate change science.

Dr. Broecker studied at Wheaton College for three years before transferring to Columbia University to complete his bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees. Two years ago, in the spring of 2017, Wheaton College welcomed Broecker back to campus for visit and give a lecture on one of the most pressing global issues: human-caused climate change.

Having dedicated his life to studying and understanding climate, he spoke about the science behind climate change, the need to reduce carbon emissions, and the need to develop new geoengineering techniques to mitigate the future effects of climate change. I had a chance to meet him that day, and he was a kind and intelligent man who was very willing to know and invest in undergraduate students. As an aspiring geochemist, it was a great honor to meet one of the most influential climate scientists of the 20th century.

His legacy will continue to inspire earth scientists for generations to come as climate change becomes an increasingly critical global issue.   

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