Friday, March 26, 2010

Wally BroeckerFor more than half a century, Newberry Professor Wally Broecker's pioneering climate change research and his legendary reputation as a revered mentor to generations of young scientists has been a magnet attracting top-notch students to Columbia's department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and world-famous Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.  On Friday April 16th, the Department and the Observatory will host an event in honor of Wally's 50 years of teaching at Columbia University.

Wally completed both his undergraduate and graduate degrees at Columbia and has spent his entire career as a geochemist at Lamont.  A prolific researcher, teacher and author, he has published over 400 journal articles and several books.  One textbook, How to Build a Habitable Planet, was the outgrowth of a course Wally taught in the early 1980s (and continued teaching into the 90s) on the origin, evolution and future of our planet.  That book is now the basis of EESC V3101x Design and Maintenance of a Habitable Planet, currently taught by Professor Terry Plank.

Great Ocean Conveyor BeltWally's research focusses on the role the oceans play climate change. He places strong emphasis on using isotopes as a means to understand physical mixing and chemical cycling in the ocean in order to uncover what it takes to trigger switches in the climate system's mode of operation.  Understanding the mechanism behind abrupt switches in the climate system's mode of operation is the first step to making good predictions about future climate change. One of Wally's best-known discoveries is that of the ocean's role in triggering abrupt climate change. In particular the idea that the global ocean circulation is like a "great conveyor belt" transporting warm and cool water around the world. Wally is also credited with coining the phrase "global warming" in a 1975 paper titled: “Climate Change: Are we on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?”

Wally is a member of several international academies, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Royal Society (UK). He is a fellow of both the American Geophysical Union and the European Geosciences Union. Wally has won nearly every top honor in his field, including the 1996 National Medal of Science, the 2006 Crafoord Prize in Geosciences (awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences), the 2008 Balzan Prize for science in the service of humanity, recognizing his contributions to the understanding of climate change, and, in 2009, the newly founded Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Climate Change Research, one of the world’s largest science prizes. Perhaps most notably, he was the 1987 recipient of the Vetlesen Prize---an honor widely regarded as the geoscience equivalent of the Nobel Prize.  He continues to teach, write, do research and advocate for ways to address human-induced global climate change.

The 50th anniversary event will be held in Monell Auditorium on the Lamont campus and will be M.C.'d by Michael M. Crow, former Executive Vice Provost of Columbia University.  Michael Bender of Princeton and George Denton of the University of Maine will deliver scientific talks.  Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore will appear in a video tribute, and University President Lee Bollinger and Earth Institute Director Jeff Sachs will deliver some remarks.  A reception will follow.