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Wallace Broecker (1931–2019), scientist popularized the term “global warming”

AP Photo / Gregorio Borgia

He predicted rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide would raise global temperatures

Wallace Broecker was a scientist who popularized the term “global warming” during the 1970s. He correctly identified that increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would result in an overall rise in global temperatures.

Among his other notable scientific work was identifying what he called the “ocean conveyor belt.” These natural systems carry water of different temperatures from one part of the ocean to another. They affect air temperature and rain patterns and are a primary reason why Europe’s climate remains mild despite being relatively far north in latitude.

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Died: Monday, February 18, 2019 (Who else died on February 18?)

Details of death: Died in New York City at the age of 87.


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Geoengineering Pioneer: Broecker proposed adding tons of sulfur dioxide to the atmosphere as a way to combat global warming. This gas is released naturally in volcanic eruptions and scatters sunlight in the atmosphere, leading to a cooling in temperatures. He also noted that it would lead to an increase in acid rain. However, he felt all potential options to combat the rise of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere should be considered.

Notable quote: “We have clear evidence that different parts of the earth’s climate system are linked in very subtle yet dramatic ways. The climate system has jumped from one mode of operation to another in the past. We are trying to understand how the earth’s climate system is engineered, so we can understand what it takes to trigger mode switches. Until we do, we cannot make good predictions about future climate change,” he wrote in his Columbia University faculty bio.

What people said about him: “Broecker helped communicate to the public and policymakers the potential for abrupt climate changes and unwelcome ‘surprises’ as a result of climate change.” —Michael Mann, Penn State professor

Full obituary: The Washington Post

Related lives:

Stephen Hawking (1942–2019), world-famous theoretical physicist

Stewart Adams (1923–2019), inventor of ibuprofen

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