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.