Wallace Broecker, Prophet of Climate Change

February 19, 2019
News Subtitle: 
A World Explorer of Oceans and Atmosphere. 1931-2019

Wallace Broecker, a geochemist who initiated key research into the history of the 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 the 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

 

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, where daily chapel attendance was required; it was at the time 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.

While at Wheaton, Broecker decided one day that Christianity was not for him, and abandoned it “cold turkey,” in his own words. He got sidetracked on the career idea as well 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. Some other students made fun of his background, calling him a “theo-chemist.” And, while other students were sent on exotic 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 said that Lamont became “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.

 

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.

wallace broecker receiving the National Medal of Science from President Bill Clinton

 

“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.

 

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.)

In the 1990s, Broecker served as chief scientific advisor for Biosphere 2, an experimental glassed-in environment in the Arizona desert meant to mimic the workings of land, oceans and air on a small scale. Columbia had just taken over scientific management, and the business side was temporarily handed over to a consultant named Steve Bannon—later chief advisor to U.S. president Donald Trump, and potent enemy of U.S. efforts to fight climate change. “An intense guy. I actually kinda liked him,” Broecker told the New Republic in 2017. After the 2016 election, Broecker was alarmed that maybe Bannon had forgotten or did not understand the science, and tried contacting him to set him straight. He never heard back.

 

Broecker authored or coauthored close to 500 research papers, and at least 17 books. Many of the books were self-published spiral-bound affairs, passed out free to anyone interested. More commercial ones included the 2008 Fixing Climate (with science journalist Rob Kunzig), an autobiographical look at the development of modern climate science. He also collaborated with Harvard scientist Charles Langmuir on How to Build a Habitable Planeta widely used text on Earth’s origin and evolution first published in 1984 and expanded in a 2012 edition. Broecker mentored about 50 Lamont grad students, many of whom went on to prominent careers.

There is no Nobel Prize in earth sciences, but Broecker received honors and millions of dollars in awards from foundations, governments and scientific societies. He received honorary degrees from Harvard, Cambridge and other universities. He was elected to London’s Royal Society and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. In 1996, he received the National Medal of Science from U.S. President Bill Clinton. He plowed most of cash awards back into research.

In summer 2001, billionaire Gary Comer, founder of the Lands’ End clothing company, managed to sail his large yacht clear through Canada’s Northwest Passage —long impassable because of ice, but now suddenly open because of warming climate. Comer was intrigued by his own feat and sought out Broecker to learn more. The two became fast friends. Broecker, then entering his 70s, credited the businessman with “adopting” him and reviving his career at a time when he was considering retirement. Using Comer’s yacht and private aircraft, they carried out multiple expeditions to the far north together. Under Broecker’s influence, Comer gave some $25 million to fund climate researchers across the world, and to build a new geochemistry building at Lamont.

Broecker, who suffered from dyslexia, never got around to learning how to type or use a personal computer. He wrote with a pencil and notepad, and had staffers retype manuscripts and emails. He was known for his friendly demeanor, but also for his bluntness and volcanic temper; he publicly skewered grad students and senior scientists alike for sloppy work. “He has singlehandedly pushed more understanding than probably anybody in our field,” said Richard Alley, a leading climatologist at Pennsylvania State University. “He is intellectually so huge in how the earth system works and what its history is, that all of us are following Wally in one way or other.”

In recent years, Broecker increasingly spoke out about the dangers of climate change, but averred that much remained unknown. “It humbles you to study the earth system, because you realize nature is really complicated,” he told CBC television. He advocated for the eventual abandonment of fossil fuels, but saw little hope it would happen soon. “I don’t think we can destine the poor people on the planet to remain poor, just so we can not have CO2 build up in the atmosphere,” he said. “Coal is going to get burned and there is not anything we can do about it. [H]ow are you going to stop people from using it?”

As a stopgap, in his later years Broecker became an advocate of nascent technologies to suck CO2 from the air and store it back underground. Toward the end, though in failing health, he continued discussing the latest research, and pressed colleagues to consider the radical and highly controversial idea of engineering the planet itself to cut down warming, possibly by injecting vast amounts of sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere to repel solar energy. To this end, he helped organize a symposium at Arizona State University that brought together many of the world’s top climate scientists to debate the topic. The meeting was held on Feb. 11, 2019. By then too ill to attend, he addressed the participants via a livestream on a big-screen TV. “If we are going to prevent the planet from warming up another couple of degrees, we are going to have to go to geoengineering,” he told them. Otherwise, he said, there could be “many more surprises in the greenhouse.” He was using a wheelchair and breathing through an oxygen tube, but assured the attendees, “My mind is running pretty smoothly.” Almost exactly seven days later, he passed away.

Grace Carder, Broecker’s first wife, died in 2007; they had been married for 55 years. They had six children, five of whom survive him: Sandra Broecker of Dumont, N.J.; Cynthia Kennedy of Harrington Park, N.J.; Kathleen Wilson of Oxford, Miss.; Scott Broecker of Pacific Grove, Calif.; and Cheryl Keyes of Morristown, N.J. A daughter, Suzanne Broecker, died earlier. He is survived also by his daughter Milena Hoegsberg and son Tobias Hoegsberg of Copenhagen, from a separate relationship.  In 2009, he married Elizabeth Clark, who had carried out work at his lab for many years, and who continued working with him; she survives him. He is also survived by his sisters Judith Redekop of Tucson, Ariz., and Bonnie Chapin of Piermont, N.Y. as well as seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Broecker’s final extended work was CO2: Earth’s Climate Driver, an overview of the subject from deep time up to the present, published in fall 2018. Some time after that, he had an informal meeting with several longtime colleagues. He said that when he died, he wanted to be cremated, and asked a fellow Lamont marine scientist, geochemist Sidney Hemming, to take his ashes with her on her next research cruise. Scatter them in the ocean, he told her.

 

OTHER OBITUARIES FOR WALLACE BROECKER:

Scientist Who Popularized ‘Global Warming’ Dies at 87 – Associated Press

Wallace Broecker; Sounded Early Alarm on Climate Change – New York Times

Wallace Broecker, Who Helped Popularize the Term ‘Global Warming’ – Washington Post

Global Warming Pioneer Wallace Broecker, the ‘Grandfather of Climate Science’– Newsweek

‘Grandfather of Climate Science’ Wallace Broecker Dies at 87 – NPR

See More Coverage

 

 

Media Inquiries: 
Kevin Krajick
kkrajick@ei.columbia.edu
(212) 854-9729

Comments

Dear Colleague,

This is very sad news. I knew Wally very well through a post doctoral stay at GISS and Lamont in the eighties and close interactions and collaboration in paleoclimate and modeling issues. Wally was exceptional   as scientist in Earth sciences but also through the relationships he has established with his PhD students, Post-Doc and colleagues. My very sincere condolences to his family.

My best regards

Jean Jouzel
Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement
Saint-Aubin​
France
02/19/2019 

 

 

I am so thankful and honored to have worked with Wally at Lamont Doherty. He was smart, funny and an amazing teacher and leader in his field. Rest In Peace Wally.  Your teaching will go down in history.

Respectfully,

Catherine Tozer  
Licensed Real Estate Salesperson​
02/19/2019 

 

 

While I have never ventured very close Wally Broecker’s fields of expertise, I have been impressed by his work ever since sitting in on a couple of his seminars 50 years ago as a graduate student.  My own trajectory headed in the direction of solid Earth geophysics, so it is understandable that one of the most memorable papers that I was given to read at the time was one published the same year I began by Art Lachenbruch.  In it he highlighted the meaning of the “noise” contained in Arctic borehole temperature data at shallow levels; they pointed quite clearly to the influence of humankind on climate since the industrial revolution.  I was also struck by the evolving Keeling curve, which even in 1969 showed not only the beautiful seasonal breathing of the earth but also the ominous upward trend of atmospheric CO2.  Broecker brought an oceanographic perspective to the overarching topic, and he was a central participant in the work of stitching together the results of disparate disciplines that have now made exceedingly clear the situation in which we find ourselves, indeed have put ourselves.  I hope that the foundation provided by people like Broecker will help us, both as a scientific body and as responsible individuals, to take appropriate and rapid action.

Earl Davis,
Pacifica Geoscience Centre,
Geological Survey of Canada
02/20/2019

 

 

I first met him when he was a visiting professor at Caltech in 1963-64.

When I was a grad student at Columbia in geophysics, he took a special interest in me which continued throughout my career.

Best regards
Bob

Robert C. [Bob] Liebermann
Research Professor
Department of Geosciences and Mineral Physics Institute
Stony Brook University
02/20/2019

 

 

On behalf of the Foundation, I would like to extend our condolences to Wally’s family, Lamont Doherty/Columbia University and the entire scientific community for the great loss.

On a personal note, I met Wally about ten years ago.  He sat me down in a lab at Lamont and started talking about the scientific breakthroughs Vetlesen funding had allowed him to achieve.  He recounted events and discoveries with such enthusiasm and excitement that it seemed as though they were happening right there and then.

He also showed me with a certain pride, artifacts that he had collected from various Vema cruises.

It was a memorable experience.

Maurizio

Maurizio J. Morello
Fulton Vittoria LLP
02/20/2019

 

 

It is a huge loss of Earth and Environmental Science community. He had been a great mentor and inspiration of young scientists like me when I studied at Columbia.

God bless.

Dr. Chengyuan (Stephen) Xu **(徐承远)***
Research Fellow/ Advanced Queensland Research Fellow
School of Health, Medical and Applied Sciences*
CQUniversity Australia,
02/20/2019

 

 

I worked with Wally and the rest of the Lamont CLIMAP and SPECMAP-ers during the 70s and 80s and appreciated his down to earth friendliness under that acerbic wit and critique. His contributions are legendary and we are all now adjusting to a world in which we don’t have Wally to turn to for comment on a new idea or theory.

My condolences and those of all of Scripps to all of you at Lamont.  Having just lost Walter Munk and Gustav Arrhenius within 4 days of each other, we understand the reflection and institutional sorrow that Lamont will be dealing with.  Please know that we are thinking of you.

Margaret

Margaret Leinen
Director, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Vice Chancellor, University of California-San Diego
02/20/2019

 

 

Dear Moanna and Arlene,

I am still in shock about Wally's sad news. In this difficult time please pass along my deepest condolences and sympathy to all Lamont family. My thoughts are with you all.

Best regards,

Leo --

------------------------------------------------------------
Leopoldo D. Pena
GRC Geociències Marines Dept. de Dinàmica de la Terra i de l'Oceà Facultat de Ciències de la Terra,
Universitat de Barcelona
02/20/2019

 

 

Wally Broecker was the Scientific leader of the first larger scale Geochemical studies of Ocean Drilling pore water and other geochemical studies during DSDP Leg 15 in the region of the Cariaco Trench. I was among the shipboard participants for my first DSDP cruise. Wally’s efforts for this exercise led me to become a participant in many DSDP/ODP drilling legs, either as a shipboard participant or in my Scripps laboratory. I am much in debt to Early Broecker for this. It has been a great experience for me. THANKS WALLY !  

Joris M Gieskes
Professor Emeritus
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
02/20/2019

 

 

 

For some reason Wally was always happy to talk with me and discuss my recent research over the decades.  He would punctuate the discussions with remarkably insightful questions.  While I tried, my seismological answers were never as deep as his questions. Having just lost Walter Munk, it's a blow to contemplate the departure of another giant in the geosciences and oceanography. My condolences to his family and colleagues at LDEO.

John Orcutt
Distinguished Professor of Geophysics
Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
University of California, San Diego

02/20/2019

 

 

Wally's passing truly marks the end on an era.  He was a giant among the pioneers who created modern geochemistry.  He changed our view of the world, and we will forever be indebted to him for this.

Ray

***************

Ray Weiss

Distinguished Research Professor
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
UC San Diego
02/20/2019

 

 

I knew Dr. Broeker many years ago through my late father, Dr. Scott Weaver, who worked for a time at Columbia and Lamont. Like many faculty brats I came to Lamont with my father on the weekends, giving me the opportunity to do a little science and to meet some world class scientists. I remember Wally as being both brilliant and down to Earth - approachable even to a nerdy young teenager. Although I took it for granted at the time, being able to sit in ancorner of a room and listen in on conversations between my father, Dr Broeker, Dr. Takahashi, and so many others was the opportunity of a lifetime - one I cherish to this day.

Thanks, Wally, for the jokes, the kind words, the science lessons, and most of all for all of your scientific contributions to the world.

J. Paul Weaver
02/20/2019​​​​

 

 

So many memories—

    of running Lamont’s Friday afternoon seminar series in the mid-1970s with Wally’s advice, and engaging M. King Hubbert and Roger Revelle on energy needs, oil supply, and climate change, and the likely consequences if the status quo with fossil fuels went unchallenged;

    of seeing Wally at celebrations of retiring technical support people, and senior scientists at the Observatory—he spoke eloquently of the importance of support staff;

    of finding a way to stabilize the Observatory in the 1980s when it became imperative that decision-making required much more input from senior scientists;

    of Wally’s delight in working with an outsider brought in as Director in the early 1980s, Barry Raleigh, who endeared us with his curiosity about how the place worked;

    of seeing Wally—soon after major heart surgery in the 1980s—being wheeled in to the Trustees Room in Low Library to advocate for researchers at Lamont when the importance of Officers of Research was under review—and working over many years to find ways at Columbia to recognize their major contributions in the Earth Sciences;

    of Wally in the early 1980s, dealing with serious indications of cancer and having to manage contradictory advice from the two top specialists in New York;

    of working with Wally when the Department of Geological Sciences (later DEES) was selected by Low Library to receive a major bequest but then seemed to be in danger of losing that benefit.

 

You had to admire Wally’s writing ability and writing processes—the way he’d hide out somewhere (sometimes a library in Teachers College).  He’d just write out a paper on yellow pad, page after page with few excisions.  He then benefitted (as few other Lamont scientists ever did) from a level of support for such creative work, that resulted in his draft being eased through the several stages of publication without much obvious effort on his part—because he got it right the first time.

 

He didn’t make a fuss about the many honors that came his way.  He put significant efforts into nominating people he respected for honors whose award he was in a position to influence.

 

He spoke effectively, both to people in power above his own (to Deans and other senior administrators, and to captains of industry, most notably Gary Comer), and to people with less power, including students and those who keep labs running and the snow cleared.  I was picked up last year at Newark by a driver who asked if I knew Wally Broecker, saying he always liked to talk to him (he had no idea that Wally was a big wheel).  Decades ago, Wally instituted our program of summer interns and spoke regularly to them and with them.

 

He had a strong sense of the big picture—how people, and institutions, should be organized to accomplish significant goals.  He didn’t engage in detail with the hard work of administration, but he had a clear sense of what administrators should do (I didn’t always agree), and had minimal reluctance in telling them what they needed to accomplish.

 

We shall miss him.

 

Paul Richards
Special Research Scientist
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Seismology Geology and Tectonophysics
02/20/2019

 

 

 

It was always a pleasure to meet, talk, solve the world’s problems, etc, with you. Vale Wally.

Richard Gillespie
02/20/2019​​

 

 

Soon after I arrived at Lamont, Wally brought me to his office and warmly welcomed me. He gave me his book "The Great Ocean Conveyor" to introduce himself and his science to me. He took me for a walk around the campus and asked me to tell him about my work and told me how he built his "department". Coming from very different backgrounds and through very different paths, we knew very little about each other but he behaved like an old friend. He made me feel extremely welcome and I was grateful. 

My deep condolences to his family and all those who loved him and will miss him dearly. 

Renata Wentzcovitch
Professor
Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Seismology Geology and Tectonophysics

02/21/2019​​

 

All the way from undergrad lessons from the famous "Tracers in the Sea" to discussions during meetings and through e-Mails I have learned a lot from prof Broecker. He was a true "Earth Science Giant".

My condolences to his family and friends.

Jan-Berend
Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research
02/21/2019

 

 

We are so sorry to hear about this sad news that Wally has left us. We cannot believe such an extraordinary man will one day leave us.

In the past two days, a message on social software Wechat “The shining beacon on the ocean has gone out” has been spreading among Chinese Quaternary community. It reminds us that the great era of pioneers and heroes in climate change science has ended. Wally was such an amazing person. His discoveries were fundamental in deciphering the global climate change, and he has been always stimulating in guiding our way. We have met several times in Lamont and in Xi’an. We can still remember that he has shown great interest when he was taking excursions on Chinese Loess Plateau, as he told us that there will be a lot of excellent works to be done, for the wonderful arid West China have much to offer. In the preface of his book translated to Chinese The great conveyer: Discovering the trigger for abrupt climate change, he promised his Chinese colleagues“… follow in my footsteps, I guarantee you that it will be an exciting trip”. Yes, we will do that.

Wally will forever be with us in this wonderful expedition.

Please pass our deep condolences to his family members, our hearts go out to them at this time of sorrow.

 

Sincerely yours,

Prof. An Zhisheng 
Professor, member of CAS,Foreign Associate of NAS
Institute of Earth Environment, CAS
Shaanxi Province, P.R. China

Prof. Zhou Weijian
Professor, member of CAS
Institute of Earth Environment, CAS
Shaanxi Province, P.R. China
02/21/2019

 

 

I met Wally in graduate school at Yale. He took me under his wing and was fundamentally responsible (conspiring with Karl Turekian) for getting me a job interview at Columbia and ultimately my position at Columbia/LDEO). He was a great friend at LDEO and despite (or maybe because of) numerous wrangles and characteristic fireworks we remained friends and close colleagues through the decades. He was incredibly encouraging and the joy he felt in the process of understanding the Earth was infectious. Words can’t express my gratitude or my feeling of loss, both personal and for our community.

Paul Olsen
Arthur D. Storke Memorial Professor
Earth and Environmental Sciences
Biology and Paleo Environment
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
02/22/2019

 

 

Deep sadness for Wally leaving us. An exceptional person...a friend of over forty years... Lamont will never be the same.

Enrico Bonatti
Special Research Scientist
Geochemistry
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
02/22/2019

 

 

With great sorrow I learn that Wally has passed on. Wally initiated and shaped an entire era of Earth System science, with his unsurpassed overview both in time and space. His creativity seemed endless, his scientific breath, inquisitive depth and innovative power were exceptional. His critical thingking was incisive, sometimes intimidating, but always generous.

I owe Wally a great lot - he was a motivating, challenging and generous mentor during my 2.5 years at LDEO from 1991 to 1993, and since then. In 1993 I moved to Bern, a position that most likely I would not have without him and his famous letters of recommendation and advice to leaders. He believed foremost in the young scientists, and I was among those fortunate enough to meet him when I was young. I still remember our first personal encounter in Switzerland, in Locarno, at a conference where he was to debate Wolf Berger on stage about Younger Dryas. The scientific controversy was played out fully between these two eminent scientists, and I was fascinated to listen to the arguments flying back and forth. I could feel that Wally was right -- like almost always!  Hans Oeschger was also attending the conference. Walking to the conference dinner with Hans and Wally, Wally asked me what I was up to, and I responded that I was scheduled to return back to Switzerland after my postdoc in Canada. "Do you want to come to Lamont?" - I still hear him asking - which felt like a Royal Flush in poker to a young scientist and much more exciting than returning back to Switzerland! To work at Lamont, that famous Lamont where so many iconic insights about the Earth System were produced! Of course, it was not that easy: a few months later Wally sent me a short mail to Canada instructing me to write a research proposal that he would submit to DOE - he knew he would get the money, and so it was! After two years at Lamont, the search for Hans Oeschger's succession was going on. Wally persuaded me to take the job in Bern. A typically bold Wally suggestion - who was I to take on this challenge?? But his faith and conviction in young scientists, his encouragement and mentoring were exceptional.

Wally did not hide his skepticism towards the IPCC assessment process which occupied a good part of my time, but he was generously observing my office as Co-Chair in AR5 from a distance. After all was done, I visited him in December 2013, and I was so happy to receive his appreciation for this work.

I feel so fortunate and deeply grateful to have shared with Wally a part of the journey.

Farewell, Wally!

 

Thomas Stocker
University of Bern 
Switzerland
02/23/2019 

 

 

I met Wally during my post-doc at Lamont and I feel very lucky and honored to have known him personally.
It is a very sad news. My deep condolences to his family and colleagues at LDEO.

 

Paolo Montagna
Institute of Marine Sciences (ISMAR)
National Research Council (CNR)
Bologna, Italy
02/23/2019

 

 

I know Wally since 1990 when I came to LDEO with my family as a visiting scientist. I have always been fascinated by Wally's vision about our field, always curious, always looking for a consistent solution to a problem, not necessarily accepting what was considered as the general consensus by digging more deeply to find what was wrong or correct. He had this rare power to propose ideas and concept with a simple handmade diagram that would push the community to really investigate more seriously the issue he was addressing. This should always be like that unfortunately I am afraid that although such behavior was rare, it is becoming extinct. More than this exceptional scientist, my relationship with Wally was also indirect as I will never forget that he met in 1969 in Paris the Czech scientist who will became for the two of us, a great friend and colleague, George Kukla. Wally made possible with others at Lamont that George could run away from former Czechoslovakia with his family and settle in USA. Such particular link between these two fellows could be best experienced during George's famous picnics to which Wally was a regular guest. Sometimes the two of them looked like the two famous Muppets characters on the upper balcony box, Statler and Waldorf. I mention George because Wally contacted me recently about a recent paper that I published with my colleagues, including George, about a famous loess sequence that George did investigate in the 60s. Wally was intrigued by our results and interpretations and wanted to check in detail, as usual, what was behind our results. Typical Wally, but nevertheless extremely stimulating. Unfortunately, this work is ongoing while Wally left us facing our new investigation. We are all eager however, even more, to complete this study in the memory of our mentor and friend. See you during another upcoming cheese and wine afternoon Wally, and thanks for everything and support! My deep condolences to Elisabeth, Wally's family, and LDEO community.

Denis

 

Denis-Didier Rousseau
Adjunct Senior Research Scientist
Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory
Columbia University, New York, USA
02/25/2019

 

 

I learned today of Wally’s passing.  I began my graduate studies at Lamont under Wally’s direction in 1961.  No one had a more profound impact on my scientific career and professional development.  He was a truly remarkable man — compassionate and humorous on one hand, hard as nails on the other.  Has anyone done more in the past 60 years to advance our understanding of the Earth System?  What a guy!  I will miss him a lot.

There is no reason to respond.  I just wanted to get my initial feelings out there to Lamont.

 

With best wishes,

 

Tom

 

Dr. Thomas F. Anderson
Professor Emeritus of Geology
University of Illinois
02/26/2019

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