Oral History Transcript — Dr. Wallace Broecker
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Interview with Dr. Wallace Broecker
Wallace Broecker; June 6, 1997
ABSTRACT: Childhood and upbringing in Chicago [Oak Park], recollections of family members; involvement in religious activities as youth; attends Wheaton College, recollections of courses and social environment at Wheaton; early interactions with I. Laurence Kulp and Paul Gast. Transfers to Columbia University; early impressions of Lamont Geologica 1 Observatory [LGO]; impressions of relations between Kulp and W. Maurice Ewing; recollections of conflicting interpretations of C-14 ratios in ocean water samples; impressions of Harmon Craig and Gerald Wasserburg; interactions with Columbia University geology faculty, including Walter Bucher. Impressions of graduate and undergraduate teaching at Columbia; recollections of Hans Suess; impressions of relations between LGO geochemists and Lamont scientists in other fields; recollections of Heezen-Ewing tensions and Heezen presentation at 1965 meeting of the Second International Oceanographic Congress (Moscow); relations with Ewing involving promotion and tenure and impressions of Ewing’s intellectual domination at Lamont; role as faculty senate member at Columbia University; recollections of proposed relocation of LGO; impressions of funding shifts involving oceanographic research, l960s-l970s; recollections of experiences onboard Vema; recollections of Henry C. Kohler. Also mentioned: Thomas Aitken, Jacques Barzun, Michael Bender, Bobby Fischer, Tom Chapin, W. Theodore de Bary, Fred Donath, James Dorman, Charles L Drake, Walter R. Eckelmann, Rhodes Fairbridge, Arnold Finck, GEOSECS program, Bruno Giletti, Billy Glass, Ralph Halford, Patrick Hurley, John Imbrie, International Decade of Ocean Exploration [IDOE], John Knuckles, Norman Kroll, Polykarp Kusch, Devandro Lave, William J. McGill, Jack E. Oliver, Neil Opdyke, Philip C. Off, Arie Poldervaart, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Robert R. Shrock, Boris Spassky, Sterling Forest [NY], Arthur N. Strahler, Lynn Sykes, Taro Takahashi, Manik Talwani, Charles Tucek, Harold C. Urey, George Wetherill, Joe [J. Lamar] Worzel.
Doel:This is Ron Doel, and this is a continuing interview with Wallace Broecker and we’re recording this on the 6th of June 1997 at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York. We’ve covered a number of issues in the 1950s but I realize that one that we didn’t really get a chance to talk about was the biology program that had begun here in the mid-1950s — the initial effort to bring Gifford Pinchot, Jr. from Yale [University] and Bob [Robert] Menzies. How involved were you with any of these early efforts?
Broecker:Almost not at all. I mean, at that time I really had no interest in marine biology. I guess I paid more attention to Allan [W.H.] Be’s work, who was really doing — you know, he was a paleontologist doing biology. But even that I never got real excited about. It was just ahead of its time. I mean, you know, if it were being done now I’d be much more interested. I remember an interesting story about that time. I think one of Menzies’ — there was a guy named Saul Friedman who worked in biology, really a friendly, nice guy, and he used to commute with [Georg] Wüst, the German, probably a Nazi. I don’t know. But he certainly didn’t get in any trouble during the war. And I don’t know, but Wüst was accused once of being a racist and he told somebody, “Some of my best friends are Jews.” That was this guy he commuted with. [Laughs] Well, we all laughed about that. And that fellow, whatever his—it wasn’t Saul Friedman. He was very, very helpful to everybody at Lamont and so I sort of knew him from the point of view of having him give me things that I needed or vice versa. Then, you know, when Menzies left, at some point Ostwald Roels arrived. Now here was a true Nazi. Somebody who was really rightist. He came from the Congo. Belgian guy. And he was a wheeler dealer of the worst type, you know. He did all kinds of things. And he started a big program for aquaculture, which I think he still runs, in St. Croix [Virgin Islands]. And he was going to pump up deep water to get cooling for hotels and to grow shrimp and everything. And there were accusations that he was adding nutrients to the water and really cheating. And he never was able to create air conditioning from it. But he presented a big problem here at Lamont. [W. Maurice] Ewing liked him. But Talwani caught right on to him and said, “We’ve got to bring this guy in because he’s trouble.”
Doel:What sort of things particularly did Talwani clue into that troubled him?
Broecker:Well, there were a lot of complaints by the people that worked for him. There were suspicions that his science was being cooked in the sense that he was conning people into giving money for this thing. He ran the thing like a dictator, which was not Lamont’s style really. Although Ewing was dictatorial but in a different way. I mean, Roels, he’d just pound the table and get what he wanted. So you should ask Pierre [E.] Biscaye about this because he was appointed by Talwani to be the head of a committee that would really run marine biology. So they in a sense didn’t fire Roels. They just put him under the control of a committee. Now Pierre was like a bulldog, and I think Roels felt he could wear Pierre out and eventually Pierre would give up or lose. But Pierre didn’t. Pierre just hung with it and eventually Roels left, so it accomplished — I think it was very well done in a sense, and I don’t think Pierre did anything bad. He just watched over things and said, “No, you can’t do that. You have to ask my permission.” And he had to know about everything so Roels couldn’t pull any weird deals. So he finally left. And then, oh, my God, we brought in—there’s a well-known guy who’s now at [University of] Maryland whose name escapes me for the moment. He’s now well-known. He was a young guy then. He came here for a couple of years. There’s another one who came here from Brookhaven [National Laboratory], I think, and then went to City University, trying to get something going.
Doel:This was under Talwani’s time?
Broecker:Yes. That was post-Roels. During Talwani. And things didn’t stabilize until John Marra came, and he finally was able to keep a small continuing program going. And actually he had an advantage because he came in more at a time when geochemistry and marine biology were taking an interest in one another, whereas before there was a relatively small overlap, and now there are a lot of programs in the carbon cycle, which involved both. And he’s interested in photosynthesis and dependence on light and so forth. And he’s gotten himself into most of the big programs and has gotten I guess healthy funding. He survived here, which is difficult all throughout—. You should also talk to Roger Anderson about marine biology because he was here under Roels. But the first one to come, of course, was [Paul] Burkholder, who was well known for his discovery in natural antibiotics. And Ewing tried to get things going with Burkholder and I think the rest of us didn’t pay much attention. I mean, the least attention. It was probably Burkholder who brought in this guy that interacted with Wüst. Because they were over in the cafeteria building at the time. But it wasn’t until Marra that things really started to cook.
Doel:When did he come to Lamont? Was this is in the 1980s?
Broecker:Early 80s. He’s been here a long time. But he also could tell you about his—oh, Ducklow is the guy who—Hugh Ducklow was here. I don’t know if he was still here when Marra came here or whether he brought Marra. I don’t remember well enough. But he went to Maryland and has done extremely well. He got a faculty position, I suppose. So unlike every other oceanographic institute we weren’t founded for biology. We tried to build it later. I think Ewing felt he needed it. But it’s always been a small program. But now it fits in very well, I must say.
Doel:I’m curious in general what reasons you feel the biological programs up until recent times didn’t thrive at Lamont?
Broecker:Well, Lamont was a geophysics institute. Even geochemistry had some difficulty, as we’ve talked about. And there was virtually no tie between biology and any geophysics they were doing. We had a really very small physical oceanography program. That would be a tie there.
Doel:Like Arnold Gordon? [cross talk]
Broecker:Yes. I don’t really know how much Arnold Gordon paid attention to it. It really wasn’t a physical oceanography measure of oxygen, he was using it more as a tracer than trying to understand the budget of oxygen. So I doubt whether Arnold Gordon paid much attention to it. And then in geochemistry it was really Taro [Takahashi] and I and Jim [H. James] Simpson that might have had potential interest. But we treated the ocean more as a black box and for most of the things we wanted to understand — gas exchange, mixing the tracers— the biology could be just treated as phosphorous getting converted to organic material and back and not worry about the details. Now people are trying to make better models of the actual plant cycle. How the carbon cycle involves plants. And so they have—one of the important things is the in-growth zoo planking after a bloom. And we had a man here for a long time named Jim Bishop, who left about four or five years ago. He was the first person to really put a big effort into in situ pumping to get particulate matter from the sea. And so that created another tie with biology, and he was a geochemist. His wife, Inez Fong, was a key person in the terrestrial carbon cycle at Goddard Institute [for Space Studies]. And they got a nice offer at [University of] Victoria,, where they are now. Both of them have positions there. And he had aging parents in that area, in Vancouver [British Columbia]. That’s where they were born. So that helped to get some integration. But it wasn’t until the eighties when people really got interested in the carbon cycle that there seemed to be any reason here to study marine biology.
Doel:That’s very interesting. It seems clear that a number of you were trying to communicate to Ewing when he was still here, that there were problems with Ostwald Roels.
Broecker:Ewing—I think, by the time these problems became serious—Ewing had sort of isolated himself and he only had people who’d kiss his ass, in a sense, that he paid attention to— one of whom was Roels. I mean, Roels was a smart politician so he’d butter Ewing up. So if he heard negative things about Roels he’d probably pay very little attention. I don’t ever remember that anybody ever made a serious attempt to derail Roels, even though a lot of us didn’t like him one bit. And it took a while, of course, after he got here, to sort of assess his character and realize what a warped person he was. No, during those latter years of Ewing, Harriet protected him from anybody who would criticize him and he surrounded himself with these sort of technically oriented people that would go out on a ship for him. And I don’t think he was listening. The same thing happened at the end of Talwani’s reign here. He didn’t seem to have anybody that surrounded him, but he gradually alienated himself from all of us, virtually the whole scientific staff. And I think Ewing— people weren’t exactly alienated, but he isolated himself to the extent that he wasn’t approachable. And I think he wanted a biology program running, so he didn’t want to hear anything. Roels was raising money. He was doing things. And I think that’s what he wanted. He was organized. Burkholder was a scatter brain and forgot to pay people and he just was a dreamer in a sense. And so the biology program was always in chaos, partly because he was a bad administrator. Roels was a superb administrator. He knew about everything. So they were almost antitheses.
Doel:That’s interesting. How did these sorts of concerns that you mentioned with Roels affect Lamont’s reputation? Did you get a sense of that?
Broecker:Lamont’s reputation was based on geophysics and isotope work and stuff. I think it had zero— among biologists, they probably thought, “Well, Lamont’s trying to have a small biology program. It’s a failure or whatever.” I don’t know. I don’t think it amounted to a hill of beans.
Doel:There were also controversies involving Perry Hudson as I remember.
Broecker:Oh, yes. You know, Ewing got knocked off the ship in what, ‘53 or ‘52 and he had big urological problems and Hudson alleviated them. As I remember, he became—Ewing became— very enamored— he was grateful to Perry. Perry was also a big operator. I know less about him but he was like many high-flying medical people. He had that entrepreneurial— and he developed a staphylococcus war, which is sort of interesting now since there’s big staphylococcus problems again. And he claimed to Ewing that he was just a researcher and that a big doctor at Columbia had tried to steal his idea and market it. Ewing bought in on this and Hudson said that they had gone to the extent of writing letters to various universities not to hire him. And you can sue for that. I mean, it’s not legal to write unsolicited letters, “Don’t hire this person.” So Ewing, as I understand it — and I was never involved in any of these things—went to the university and demanded that Hudson be given a regular faculty position at the Medical Center and he was. Shortly thereafter, Hudson turned around and somehow, he had gotten from Ewing—Ewing would claim he stole them out of his files or God knows where—Ewing gave him some letters. And he turned around and sued the university based on this file of letters that Ewing had. Now what exactly was in these letters I don’t know. But Ewing apparently was really upset with him. There was another connection during that period. See, Hudson was living in what was the tree ring lab down there. And one of Hudson’s daughters is married to Pat Williams, who is a former Lamont Ph.D. They got married. They met while he was a student. And I used to see her sometimes down on campus and she would tell me about the early days when she played with the Ewing children because of course there weren’t many kids around here. So she knew the Ewing kids fairly well. Then Hudson got much more prosperous. He moved to a bigger estate somewhere in Rockland County, kept this as a medical research facility for some kind of cancer studies, and he ran it as a lab. I don’t know. I guess it was just a private —like a company.
Doel:And right here on Lamont?
Broecker:No. Right in his old house down on the Tree Ring Lab. And then when he decided—I don’t know if he moved the company or whether it folded up or what, but that became available and Lamont bought it as an investment. And then it was shortly thereafter that we started the Tree Ring effort with Gordon Jacoby. That’s an interesting tie between that and marine biology.
Broecker:Yes. Roels had a guy named [Gurdial Mall Sharma who was an Indian chemist. And he was worried that Roels was on his way out and he wouldn’t have funding. So he and I and a student of mine, Jim White, started to work on tree rings and White was going to do isotopes in the wood, and Sharma was going to do organic chemicals. Well, it was in the corner room over there where Simpson is now.
Doel:You’re pointing across the way [to the present Marine Biology Building].
Broecker:Yes. As you go in the door, the room on the right. So he took this section of wood— I don’t remember, something like that— and drilled these holes and was supposed to make these analyses and we actually got a grant to do this. But a year went by. It turned out he’d done almost nothing, you know. So I went to Talwani and said you know, we can’t support Sharma. He’s not doing anything. And so they let Sharma go. And he went out to Long Island and so forth and I kind of lost touch with him. But anyway, that started the tree ring effort. And we recruited Gordon Jacoby and he came sort of in the middle of all that. But the interesting thing is my daughter, Sheri, took organic chemistry in the summer at William Patterson State College in Patterson, and who should be her professor but Sharma. So one day he called her up after class and he said, “You know what this is?” And he pulled out that piece of wood with all the holes in it and he said, “This relates to your father.” And she said, “Oh, you know my father?” “Yes. He was the one that got me fired at Lamont.” So Sheri came home and said, “Boy, Dad, organic chemistry is hard.” She was in nurses’ training and she said, “This is a disaster.” Anyway, I saw him about a year ago when I gave a lecture for some high school students. He was quite friendly. But that was another one of these episodes in trying to get something involving biology going here.
Doel:You had mentioned tree ring studies, of course, in your dissertation. And you were paying attention to some of the early evidence about that. Had you wanted to get that effort started sooner?
Broecker:I wanted to do isotopes and tree rings because I thought maybe there’d be a good archive. And Jim White, who’s now professor at Colorado, did his thesis on deuterium in sap waters, cellulose. He never got to doing paleostudies but he was trying to understand what controls a signature of deuterium in contemporary trees. And he was looking at a tree up in—oh, what’s that?—the place with all the gazebos up the thruway. What is it called? Mohawk Mountain house. On their property he studied a tree that grew in a swamp, one that grew in a really well-drained hill slope and one that grew in between and he tried to see the differences. And of course, in the swamp, the deuterium was fairly constant because it drew out of the big water. The one that was on the well-drained, it was really water limited and every time it rained it just sucked in water and he could show that the sap within 24 hours at chest height would be the same isotopically as in the rain. So we got started with that. And then Jacoby came. White left. And Jacoby wasn’t particularly interested in isotopes. I mean, they’d gone at it from the point of view of thickness and density and so forth, which is probably a more valuable thing to do. But I was interested in it from the point of view of a geochemist. But essentially I started the tree ring lab here.
Doel:That’s intriguing. How did you first come into contact with Jacoby, to know of his work?
Broecker:I think Jim Simpson knew about him because Jacoby was a student here. And Jacoby—I think he was working for the USGS—or who was he working for? But he was interested in the water availability from the Colorado [River]. So he was doing tree rings in the Colorado drainage trying to assess whether their estimates of the average rainfall were reasonable or whether they were taken during a period of extreme wetness— which I think was the conclusion—which would, you know, have a big effect on building dams and making water allotments. And Jim heard about that and I think they had been to graduate school together here, and he was the one that recommended we try to get Jacoby. And then Jacoby in turn found [Edward] Cook, and I don’t remember how that happened at all. And they worked! And they’re now the most famous tree lab in the world, which is quite impressive since they started from nothing. So that was a success story. That’s a very healthy operation. And I’m glad they were able to move up on campus because being down there, you know, that’s a long distance.
Doel:How far away was that house before they moved into the current?
Broecker:Well, you can walk to it through the woods, but it’s about a 15 minute walk. If you go down it’s about halfway from the gate to the light on 9W. There’s a sign. It’s more or less at the bottom of the hill and it says TRL. Tree Ring Lab. Just a little wooden sign. I think it’s probably still there. And a driveway back in. It’s about 50-60 yards away from the road. So you can’t see the house unless you drive in that driveway. It’s five acres. I think that’s where they’re thinking now of making that into a daycare center. It would be a very good place for it, if they can de-contaminate it and fix it up. We did isotopes — or one of the guys that worked for me that did tracer studies, Peter [H.] Santschi, kept his tracers down there, and so he had part of the building and Gordon had the rest. And Gordon was a freak about radioactivity and they used to be out there with their monitor and they found that the place near where the building goes to him had twice as much radioactivity as other places and we said, “Oh, Jesus, that’s granite v. basalt. I mean, it’s probably all natural.” But he was sure that Peter was contaminating him. So finally Peter left. We took the tracers out of there and that problem got solved. But that made a bit of a rift between me and Gordon because I said, “Gordon, you’re nuts about this stuff.” I said, “You know, Peter’s careful about it and it’s well shielded and it’s not being spread around or spilling all over.” But Gordon wouldn’t believe that.
Doel:Given the distance to there, did that effectively isolate Jacoby and Cook intellectually from the community?
Broecker:Well, I don’t know. The question is do we see them that much more. I mean, another thing that happened is that the El Nino group is interested in what you can gain from tree rings and so forth so there’s a tie between especially Ed Cook and Mark Cane. So I think, you know, it’s the intellectual connection that counts. But I don’t think either of them eat lunch very often in the cafeteria even now that they’ve come up here. That building, well, it’s on the way to the library, you might say, but I’ve only been there since they’ve been in there maybe five times. I talk to them on the phone if I want to talk to them so it doesn’t matter. But I think for their interactions with other people here, where they have a stronger connection, it certainly makes it easier for students and post-docs.
Doel:I want to get back to the Talwani period later as well as the 1960s. But I want to make sure that we cover some other issues and topics in the 1950s that we really haven’t treated yet. In your dissertation work, you’ve mentioned a few developments including Phil [Philip C.] Orr’s interest in the western work. One of the things I was very curious about is how you came to think, in terms of the broad synthesis that the dissertation represented, linking the ocean systems as well as the deep circulation?
Broecker:Well, if you run a radiocarbon lab, you’re faced with a lot of temptations of things you can study. And I like that. I mean, I was naturally attracted to looking at many different things. Perhaps at the time they weren’t so closely linked. But Ewing and [William] Donn did that glacial theory which was sort of, turned out to be totally wrong. I may have mentioned it before, the interesting thing is that it started getting people to think about glacial theory, whereas glaciation was sort of a forgotten subject as far as theory goes. And Ewing liked the idea of an abrupt change to glaciations. I mean, that fit his — the Ewing-Donn theory. So he was very happy when I started to see evidence for this, like the highest level of Lake Lahontan was very late in its history and the ocean sediment showed an abrupt change, and that these were all coming out around 11,000 years. That’s what we thought then. And there was a transition in the Mississippi Delta at that time from coarse sands and gravels to clays. It was just a dramatic change probably. I don’t know why that was. Climate in the drainage a little bit due to sea level, but it was fairly abrupt. So I assumed that reflected the climate change in the Great Plains to more vegetation. So all these things tied together. The ocean work Kulp had started independently and I told you that’s where he and Ewing got in such a big mess because Kulp wanted to publish the radiocarbon stuff quickly. And Ewing was more conservative and wanted to make sure it was right. And Kulp went ahead and did it anyway, and Ewing felt that he shouldn’t have done that because Ewing collected the samples and Kulp ran them—about an equal amount of work, you know. I guess Kulp considered collecting the samples as trivial. He’d never been out on the ship to see how much trouble it was.
Doel:That’s an interesting point.
Broecker:Yes. So I just inherited that from Kulp and I told you, the first thing I did was measure the blank in the ascerite which totally tipped the balance from them, you know, making a correction that made the samples very old to making a correction that made them very young. And then I proceeded to try to do it better by getting new samples and improving the way we— abandoning ascerite, which was a pain in the neck, and going to potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide, which at least didn’t have a blank. Of course it was far messier to use at sea. You know, our whole systems were not so reliable and KOH [potassium hydroxide] got sprayed around every now and then. So I mean, I started working on all those problems and I just continued them.
Doel:But even the idea in the 1950s of abrupt change, climate change, wasn’t widely considered by the community?
Broecker:I mean, Ewing and I—I guess one of my early papers was “Evidence for an Abrupt Climate Change 11,000 Years Ago.”
Doel:The 1960 paper?
Doel:Bruce Heezen was also a co-author of it.
Broecker:Right. And that, you know,— [John] Imbrie and I— he got interested in the late sixties, and we immediately started a discussion. We both were aware that [Milutin] Milankovitch was probably pacing things, but why terminations? And you know, that argument is not yet ended — or discussion. It wasn’t necessarily an argument. But that’s always been one of the difficult things to understand, is why did climate do that.
Doel:Right. And you’re moving your hand down to show a sudden shift.
Broecker:A sudden shift. Right. So I mean, in a sense, just trying to solve that problem. You know, I told you, in 1971 I was at Woods Hole and Henry Stommel I think it was— no, probably ‘70, ‘69 even—Henry Stommel came to a meeting that we were attending and he took Ed [Edward C.] Goldberg and I aside and he said, “You know, you’re never going to really make proper use of radiocarbon in the sea by getting samples hither, thither and yon, just scattered profiles, not much depth coverage. You’re going to have to do it right.” And we said, “Oh, my God. That’s a huge project.” But we started to think about it. He said, “Do it with the radiocarbon for the whole Atlantic.” And we said, “It’ll cost a million dollars.” And he said, “So what. It’s worth it.” Then about a year later they announced the IDOE, or they were going to announce it, and Paul Fye called Harmon Craig and I into his office to tell us this money was available and he wanted our program to be sort of the first one. You know, as an example of how this would be done. And so for a decade then I mainly did chemical and isotope oceanography and I wrote The Tracers in the Sea in 1980-81. And so during that period Imbrie, Hays, Nick Shackelton sort of took over the climate part with Milankovitch and I was pretty much on the sidelines. And then with the discovery of C02 changes it indicated to me there had to be an ocean involvement and so starting in ‘82 I published a paper trying to explain the CO2 change and then I went on from there and got into the abrupt changes when they found that there were abrupt C02 changes, which now in hindsight didn’t exist. They were artifacts. But still they got me thinking in that way. And then I went heavily back into climate and basically George Denton and I took on the whole CLIMAP-SPECMAC community and told them, “Hey you guys, you’re not really thinking about it right.” And of course, they didn’t like to hear that. And we were sort of lone voices in the wilderness and George who’s a big worrier used to say, “Wally,” he said, “I’m never getting that—I said, “George, we’re right. Give it three years and things will change.” And they did.
Doel:What issues particularly are you thinking about when you say that?
Broecker:Well, Imbrie— even in his last papers he had this idea that because there were three frequencies in Milankovitch, if they all got into a down or up trend at the same time, you could get a sharp change. And he did this spectral analysis with sort of wide windows and was able to juggle things around, I thought, to prove what he wanted to prove. That this was chance. And I said, “Come on, John. If it happened once it could be chance but if it happened all these times that’s ridiculous.” Because there’s no reason they should line up so carefully, you know. But they wanted this to be driven by these orbital cycles with only leads and lags. And these leads and lags were constant in time, you know, so that in their models they would have some leader or lag factor that was constant all the way. So it was a little difficult for them to get sharp terminations. Of course, nobody really understood the hundred thousand year cycle because it, in a sense, shouldn’t be there. So they were obsessed that that was the only important thing and we started to say, “Well, what in the hell is going on with all of these jumps?” I mean, they’re not, their timing is— there are ten of them per 23,000 year cycle, or five of them, you know, so you can’t say that this is being driven in any simple way by Milankovitch. So we pushed the mode change thing—and we also — another thing that we looked at was the mountain snow lines, which people had disregarded really. CLIMAP had wanted to worst them away, forget about them, say they were due to precipitation or something. We made a big point because the snow lines allow you to say that the climate change was basically symmetrical because the snow line lowering in the two hemispheres was synchronous and about the same amount. They wanted to drive the whole thing—everybody did— from the ice caps. And if you put ice caps on a model and say “What are their global changes?” well, people—like even Jim Hanson— today says it’s mainly the albedo of the ice cap. Well, Jesus, in any model that albedo influence is restricted mainly to the same latitude belt. Doesn’t even extend to Florida let alone the southern hemisphere. So they wanted to have the southern hemisphere sort of small potatoes. Well, the Antarctic ice coasts came along and snow lines and it became clear that this whole thing was symmetrical and that some of these sharp changes were synchronous across —. So we had called on some far more sweeping thing that had to be happening. And we admitted, maybe it is triggered by orbital changes, but it’s not a good way. See Imbrie thought he would get at the solution by what they call SPECMAP, and that’s strictly looking at it spectrally. And I always objected to that and said the only way we’re ever going to understand it is to understand the physics forward not backward. And I said, “You guys aren’t getting anywhere. This is not giving you any insight into the physics.” I mean, if it did, if there were really beautiful leads and lags and it was all sine waves and everything it would be okay. But it wasn’t. So I said, “You have to go back and try to understand the physics.” And Denton and I sort of emphasized that. And then with the finding of Heinrich layers and things, suddenly—and the interest in global change— the pendulum swung away from—and Imbrie’s retirement, so they lost their great leader—the pendulum swung back very strongly in our direction. It started to swing the other way. But people have gotten really interested in the shorter time scales because they have more implications with regard to the future. And I think Imbrie and I have been—he was a faculty member here when I was a student and we’ve always been good friends but this whole argument has always strained our friendship because I can be pretty nasty when I get involved in a tough discussion and I think I irked John greatly at times because I was trying to make him aware of his—. But he got an award at the AGU [American Geophysical Union] and I introduced him. And I really—
Doel:How long ago was this?
Broecker:This was in 1986 or ‘87. You ought to go read that. It would be published in EOS, I guess.
Doel:Probably in EOS.
Broecker:Yes. But I introduced him so I was spoofing a bit that the SPECMAP people would sit around and listen to the strains of Milankovitch’s great symphony. It’s like Ayn Rand’s great novel, Atlas Shrugged. There was a musician in there and so I said a parody on that. And John was collecting wine glasses at the time so I would say sipping wine and listening to the strains of Milankovitch’s Fifth Symphony. [Laughter]
Doel:How did he react to that?
Broecker:It was in good humor, you know. Because in a sense, that’s what they were doing. They didn’t have any problem with that. But he knew of course I had a problem with it. I mean, it was one of these things where Imbrie was able to marshal the whole field and get them to follow him. And in some sense that’s good because people work together. On the other hand, it’s bad because it cut out diversity, which is the health of science, you know. And they were such a powerful team that any single person who came along — like with these mountain snow lines — they’d just mow them down. I don’t think purposely, but if that community didn’t believe it then it didn’t get paid attention to.
Doel:How did he have that much power?
Broecker:Well, he’s a very charming man and he’s a very good scientist and people naturally like Imbrie. I mean, he’s a very likable person. I would say Imbrie didn’t wield power in the sense that he— that this never—I mean, Imbrie led by enthusiasm and ideas and the fact that people really liked him and admired him. There was no bad element to Imbrie at all. And of course, his contributions to demonstrating that these spectral—you know, that Milankovitch cycles certainly have been pacing climate through the whole history of the planet. And Imbrie can take credit in a sense for making that point to the world. I mean, that’ll never go away.
Doel:Imbrie, of course, goes to Brown University in the late 1960s. How did that effect the development of the climate programs here?
Broecker:Well, see, he was downtown. He never was out at Lamont.
Doel:Was he a fairly frequent visitor to Lamont? Did you see him often out here?
Broecker:Oh, well, I saw him often. Yes. Well, we held our classes down there, a colloquium, so there was good communication. But it was sort of tragic in that Imbrie started to do work on ocean cores only a year or so before he left here. And he went to Brown and developed CLIMAP and everything. But Jim Hayes had been one of his students, or his student when Imbrie was a professor in paleontology. So they retained their friendship and worked together. I don’t think it made much—I mean, it was a serious loss to Columbia, but I don’t think it had much effect on the climate program. I mean, we have all these ocean cores. There was a lot of momentum and Imbrie had not been a major part of it. He just started to get into this stuff and developed this whole idea of doing factor analysis of the relative abundance of the species in ocean cores. That started here and then that was the bread and butter of CLIMAP.
Doel:Let me pause.
Broecker:Because CLIMAP and GEOSECS were the two really successful programs of IDOE, by everybody’s estimation those are—and I suppose on the longer time scale GEOSECS now eclipses CLIMAP because CLIMAP’s basic conclusion about the tropical ocean doesn’t appear to be right. Tropical ocean appears to have cooled considerably more than they estimated. And that was one of their startling results, was that the cooling of the tropics was so small. But they began a global look at ocean sediments, and took advantage of these marvelous records. So essentially they did for ocean sediments what we did for isotopes and things in the ocean, from just scattered things here and there to a more organized way of getting data from all quadrants of the ocean and putting it together in a consistent way.
Doel:And you were of course one of the leaders of the GEOSECS program as the GEOSECS program emerged. What goals did you initially see coming out from GEOSECS?
Broecker:Well, GEOSECS was a survey. We all felt that in order to really make progress in understanding ocean chemistry we had to have global distributions of as many properties as we could measure. The criteria for properties being that they were something we could measure reproducibly and well so that the errors on our measurements were small compared to the spread in the range of oceanic values. And that we would do it as a first survey around the ocean. We should have gone closer to Alaska. So we made. The only place that I think—
Doel:Pointing to that.
Broecker:And you notice we never went to South America. And the reason was we got to Tahiti during the oil crisis, and that year we had a terrible time getting oil— getting fuel— and we had to make all kinds of special arrangements. The next port we were going to go to was Callao [Peru] and we were going to have to pay $90,000 for fuel to get it. And NSF said, “No, that’s too expensive. We won’t pay it.” So instead we went out from Tahiti and then straight north to San Diego. That was the end so we never got over there. But with that major exception we really did have good coverage of the world ocean. We told Stommel initially it would cost a million dollars. Ultimately it cost $25 million. A lot of things changed. He said to just do the Atlantic. And so that was what the million dollars was based on. We did all of the oceans and we did — instead of just radiocarbon— we did about 50 different properties. So the GEOSECS data set is now the basis for hundreds and hundreds of studies. Everybody goes back to GEOSECS and builds on that and it helps not only with “where do you go?” and “what do you get?” but when you get something you can more quickly put it in context. It had no true scientific objectives in that sense. I mean, we all wanted to understand more about how the ocean circulated and about how the nutrients were distributed and so forth, but we knew that that data would be of real great importance. Do you know about the movie, Rivers in the Sea?
Doel:I haven’t heard of that.
Broecker:Well, that should be included in this history. It was made by Chip Gallagher, who’s a wild man from New York City. It was a very well made movie. NSF paid—sponsored it—and he went on the Tahiti-San Diego leg and filmed everything we did and made it into a movie that’s primary thing is just showing what that kind of work is like. You work around the clock. The kind of things we were doing — the instruments, the measurements we were making. But it also said that we’re interested in fossil fuel—C02— uptake by the ocean and so forth. And the movie has not ever gotten wide circulation, but it’s a neat movie. Gallagher is in the picture up there. He’s sitting in the middle of the deck.
Doel:We’re looking at a picture you have behind your desk.
Broecker:Yes, over next to the— that was taken on that last leg. That’s the scientific party and Gallagher. But that’s a very good documentation. It would be worth looking at. I think we probably have a conversion to video tape, which is not as good quality as the original 16 mm film. But the sound track is there. It’s about 45 minutes long. And it does sort of lay out. Gallagher, boy what a character. Jesus. He’s now—or his wife—they claimed for 10 years now they’re going to build this ship called The Phoenix which is going to house 5,000 people. It’ll be the biggest cruise ship. They have fancy offices back at the Ford Foundation. I’m sure it’s a total scam. A guy named Knut Closster, who’s one of the big cruise ship magnates in the world, you know, I think he’s Norwegian, backs them to some extent. But he [Gallagher] also runs a summer school for diplomats’ daughters at the Finger Lakes. He at one time was going to hook fancy—sort of like rolling whore houses, I think is what he was thinking about, on an Amtrak train so that you could get on in the evening and get up in the morning and have fancy breakfasts and everything. I mean, he said he was going to do this. Amtrak would never let him do it. He ran this school for sort of disturbed teenagers. He took them all over the world. He used to run deficits of $50,000 a semester and bad debts. And he was a film cameraman for Mike Wallace for many years. He’s a very talented guy.
Doel:Was he also a book writer?
Broecker:I don’t think so. Now he’s running the— I just got it. I threw it in the waste basket. His latest mini-scam while his wife is doing this great thing—I think he’s been sort of cast out— he’s running a yachting club for— what does he call it? But he was going to restart The Prince Henry School of Navigation at Ponta Delgada in the Azores. This guy goes on and on. I mean, incredible guy. Irishman.
Doel:Thinking back on GEOSECS, do you feel that NSF gave as much support as you felt you needed?
Broecker:There was a man named Feenan Jennings who was the head of IDOE and he was marvelous. He during those years I think was the ideal administrator. He courted us well. He kept an eye on what we were doing. He encouraged us and now and then cut back our program, but I mean, we got virtually everything we asked for with minor cuts. So he was extremely supportive. I mean, IDOE is one of the golden periods of oceanography in the U.S. That was the first time they tried to do big programs. So there were a lot of good programs waiting to be done. And he got them all started and several of them— GEOSECS and CLIMAP were big successes. The manganese nodule program was not a very big success. CUEA (Coastal Upwelling), which was an upwelling program, I don’t think was as big as a success but it laid the way for a lot of the future—I mean, that’s the way NSF spends a lot of its money now.
Doel:And you favored this approach? [cross talk]
Broecker:We never would have gotten any of these things done without it. The trouble is once you skim the cream, then the question is whether the following ones are as valuable. But it led to deep sea drilling and many other big programs. But Feenan was the genius behind it. He did it well.
Doel:What made him so particularly effective?
Broecker:Well, he was a nice guy, number one. So people naturally liked him. Same as Imbrie. He, I think, used good judgment and had about the right touch. He didn’t try to control things but people had the idea that he was paying attention and they weren’t going to— maybe it was just that he was lucky enough to be there at the right time, you know. I mean, maybe if he’d been in another situation where money was tight and so forth, maybe he would have been rotten. It’s hard to say. He retired shortly thereafter, so he never had a chance to prove himself. He was not a genius of a scientist. It wasn’t because of his astuteness as a scientist he did this. But I think a really good funding manager will learn who to listen to and how to listen. And he must have had that ability to sort through the various opportunities and pick good people who knew how to do what they were going to do and carry it out. I think along the way he got scared now and then. I think Congress or somebody said that each of these big programs, since they were so big, should be organized by one of these companies that organizes the building of a hospital or something—you know, try to keep it all together. And I don’t think he liked this idea, but I’ll never forget—we had a meeting in La Jolla [California] where he put the GEOSECS operations committee together with one of these think tanks and it was mayhem because we did not want them and what they thought. But they made this very professional presentation about building hospitals and things, and we were kind of scratching our heads trying to figure out what the relationship to our program was. And at one point they showed the flow of information. They said it was usually very inefficient and they had this transparency of people passing along from year to year and there were ten people and one of them was black. So Harmon Craig made the point. [Laughing] And then later on they said, “And also we know how to program creativity.” Well, that practically caused a riot. We said, “Hey, wait a minute. That’s total bologna. Nobody knows how to program creativity.” In fact, creativity by definition is not programmable, I don’t think. I think he probably turned them loose on us knowing that we were tough sons of bitches and we would sort of end that, because I think he was smart enough to realize that these programs weren’t that big. But we had this guy, Arnold Bainbridge, who was absolute genius at hiring good people and getting things done on time. I mean, he created all this instrumentation in a very short period of time, and he upgraded chemical oceanography at least an order of magnitude in the course of 18 months and many of the things that plateaued as far as techniques used at se—measurement techniques, sampling techniques. He was the first one to go to rosettes that were triggered from the surface. Each time you want to take a bottle you press a button where you have the STD, the depth-salinity-temperature, thing right on the rosette. We had one of the early IBM computers and so we could look at these things in real time. Replay them. It was just such an enormous advance over what anybody else had had.
Doel:That’s very interesting. All that is right on the ship, in situ as you’re making the measurements.
Broecker:Yes. So you could even replay the things.
Broecker:Blow them up, you know. He really did a job. That was amazing. So we all enjoyed going out and doing it. The other thing is — oh, one thing. Feenan said, “If you guys are going to do this you must promise to be the chief scientists. You cannot give this off to other people. You’ve got to do it.” So we in the Atlantic and Pacific were— it was one of the three of us— Derrick Spencer from Woods Hole, Harmon Craig from Scripps and me — or other members in the Executive Committee like Taro and Peter Brewer that were chief scientists. Then in the Indian Ocean Ray [F.] Weiss, some younger people who were still students, I guess, when we started, but five years later they were seasoned scientists. They took over. But we always had top-notch people running the program. Bambridge had this marvelous crew of technical people that ran through the whole thing. I mean, it was just great. Everybody just concluded at the end that GEOSECS wasn’t very good for marriage because we were gone so much. Three or four or five marriages fell apart as a result of GEOSECS.
Doel:How often were you gone during those times? You pointed out an overlay with Marie Tharp’s and Bruce Heezen’s [cross talk] .
Broecker:This leg— the first one was from Iceland to Barbados. Then I went from Recife [Brazil] to Buenos Aires. Then I went from Hawaii to Adak [Alaska] and then from Adak to Tokyo [Japan], and then I went from Tahiti to San Diego [California] and then I went from Perth [Australia] to Sri Lanka where we visited Sir Arthur Clarke.
Doel:Oh, you did?
Broecker:He was going to come to the ship. We cabled him. And he said he’d come and then at the last minute he said, “I can’t come.” And it was on April 1st we arrived. Because it was interesting. At noon on March 21st you couldn’t see your shadow because we were on the Equator and the sun was directly overhead. But somebody had put in the paper as a joke that there was going to be a solar eclipse and so he was panicked that so many people would burn their eyeballs out, that he had to go down on television and radio and warn them for heaven sakes. But then he invited us to his house and we went there and some of the people on the ship were just ardent fans and they thought this was just wonderful. He was a very interesting character. He ran the glass bottom boat thing. In Sri Lanka he had his great cages around a big tree where he had these spider monkeys and he had a study in his house that was bigger than this room. Surrounded— the walls on all sides had bookshelves and he said, “You know whose bookshelves these are.” And he said, “They’re all mine.” And I guess they were translations in 12 different languages or so. But then when we went downtown he said to us that he liked to be in Sri Lanka because it was warm and he didn’t have to pay taxes. And somebody downtown said, “The hell with him. He likes 11-year-old boys.” So that was their view of Arthur.
Doel:It raises another interesting point. Effectively by the 1960s you were directing the Geochemistry lab here once Larry Colby moved further and further out. I’m curious. In the 1960s, what seemed to be the primary goals? What did you want to see done?
Broecker:Well, I mean it was sort of co-directed in a way between Paul Gast and I until he went to Houston. Well, I think our goal has always been to get excellent young scientists and students here and work on exciting problems. I don’t think we had any long term curatorial goal. I mean, Ewing was good at that, building up the core lab and stuff. I never was. That was never the way I operated. I’m an opportunist that looks for and finds some new thing and pounces on it, you know? During that period it was terribly hard. I mean, a lot of this lab went into decay. And then we gradually hired new people and took a long time to really fill this building with state-of-the-art equipment, which it is now. Because Kulp had gotten into so many areas with so many pieces of equipment and to have enough money and good scientists to keep all of those up— it was a bit of a sag.
Doel:Is that what you meant by “went into decay?”
Broecker:Yes. I mean, that’s maybe overstating it, but I said it was difficult to maintain all of the stuff we had and do quality work with it because it was soft money and it was just Paul and I that had faculty positions. We did the best we could. It was a blow when he left and went to Houston and then didn’t come back because he developed cancer and decided to stay there. I mean, he wouldn’t have been back here very long anyway so it wouldn’t have made much difference. But then we got Keith O’Nyons. He came in what, ‘72 or ‘73. That was a big boost. But we had to renovate that—I mean, this building was built for $120,000. So we had to renovate and renovate and renovate to sort of get the labs up to some decent—we should have had a new building 20 years ago in a way. So instead, we just have to keep gutting the rooms and rebuilding them. But, you know, overall, we’ve always had very, very good students here. There’s no doubt about it.
Doel:We have quite a few more issues to cover in the ‘60s and particularly in the 1970s and ‘80s, but I know we’re coming close to the time that you need to leave. [cross talk]
Broecker:They’re bringing somebody from Ford here on Monday and they want to have a meeting to discuss what we are going to tell them.
Okay. Let me thank you very much again for this session.