The Crafoord Prize in Geosciences 2006

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Crafoord Prize in Geosciences for 2006 to Wallace S. Broecker, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, Palisades, NY, USA, “for his innovative and pioneering research on the operation of the global carbon cycle within the ocean – atmosphere – biosphere system, and its interaction with climate”.

Will today´s growing greenhouse effect lead to major climate  changes and how cautious do we have to be? To answer these  questions we have to understand the processes governing  the interaction between the atmosphere, the oceans, ice and  living organisms. Geochemist Wallace Broecker is the person  who has contributed most to our knowledge of this complex  interactive system.

His most pioneering contribution was his study of the global  carbon cycle. Previously the composition of seawater was  explained, for example, in terms of chemical equilibrium. A  good 35 years ago Broecker launched instead a flow model  based on the interaction of land, atmosphere and the oceans.  In doing so he has made a decisive contribution to our  understanding of the link between carbon dioxide levels in the  atmosphere and the chemistry of the oceans, for example how  much carbon dioxide they can receive and store.

The laureate has also played a crucial role in developing the  theory of large-scale ocean currents and matching it with the  interactive Earth System. He was 20-30 years ahead of his time  when, in the 1960s, he suggested that rapid climate changes  during the last glacial cycle were related to alterations in  global ocean circulation patterns.

Ocean currents distribute heat between latitudes and, when  they change, it has major effects on the climate, both locally  and globally. For example if warm surface water failed to reach  as far north in the North Atlantic as it does today, the climate  in Scandinavia could be similar to Alaska´s. Applied to the  current climate debate, paradoxically, rapid global warming  and increased rainfall could lead to a colder climate around the  North Atlantic.

Broecker participates actively in the on-going debate,  providing information about the interactive Earth System to  the general public, politicians and other decision makers. He  does not prophesy doom but urges caution: one of his similes  is a comparison of the complex climate system with a sleeping  dragon that we should not disturb.

Wallace S. Broecker, born 1931 (75) in Chicago, US citizen, PhD  in Geology 1958 from Columbia University. Newberry Professor  of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Lamont-Doherty Earth  Observatory, Columbia University, Palisades, NY, USA. 

 

The Prize-awarding ceremony will take place in Lund on 26 april 2007 in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen.

In 2007 the Crafoord Prize will celebrate its 25th anniversary, with jubilee symposia in Lund 23-26 April. Welcome to four days of plenary lectures, open discussions and symposia in all the Crafoord disciplines. 

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