views updated

Ruddiman, William F. 1943- (Bill Ruddiman, W.F. Ruddiman)


Born 1943. Education: Columbia University, Ph.D., 1969.


Home—VA. Office—Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, Clark Hall, 291 McCormick Rd., P.O. Box 400123, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4123. E-mail—[email protected]


Writer, paleoclimatologist, marine geologist, oceanographer, and educator. University of Virginia, Charlottesville, professor, 1991-96; professor of environmental studies emeritus, 1996—, department chair, 1993-92;; U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office, senior scientist; Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, Doherty Senior Research Scientist.


(Editor) Tectonic Uplift and Climate Change, Plenum Press (New York, NY), 1997.

Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2005.

Earth's Climate, 2nd edition, W.H. Freeman (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor to magazines and periodicals, including Scientific American, Nature, Quaternary Science Reviews, Journal of Geology, Marine Geology, and Science.


Author and educator William F. Ruddiman is a paleoclimatologist, marine geologist, and paleoceanographer whose work focuses on climate change and the effects that human activity have had on Earth's climate over the years. He has studied climate change and associated topics for his entire career, beginning when he was a graduate student at Columbia University in the late 1960s. He is now a retired professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia. For many years, he was the Doherty Research Scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. In an autobiography on the University of Virginia Department of Environmental Sciences Web site, Ruddiman explained that his scientific research "focuses on ocean sediments that contain diverse indicators of Earth's climate change over time scales ranging from thousands to tens of millions of years." These indicators include accumulations of windblown dust; ocean plankton; and ice volume and temperature, all of which provide valuable clues to the state of the planet's climate in the past. Ruddiman's work seeks answers to questions of what factors drive climate change.

Ruddiman discusses his research, scientific findings, and theories in his book, Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate. In the book, he addresses the controversial and often contentious topic of global warming, including what kind of effect humans have had on the changing qualities of the environment. Ruddiman sees definite signs of warming and unmistakable evidence of human-caused effects on climate. However, rather than being a recent phenomenon, Ruddiman believes that human influence on the environment has been happening for 8,000 years or more. "With great ingenuity he digs up clues to the growing numbers of humans on the planet, their impact in terms of forest removal, the addition of trace gas to the atmosphere resulting from that removal, and the positive feedbacks within the climate system that amplify the effect," noted Wolfgang H. Berger in the American Scientist. Based on his research with ice cores, Ruddiman has detected a significant difference in carbon dioxide content during years in which humans were hard at work on the planet, compared to earlier periods of heavy glaciation. When humans caused increases in carbon dioxide and methane, global temperatures began to rise, and the cycle of glaciation was reversed. Activities such as the clearing of forests for farmland caused increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, whereas increased methane was generated by agricultural activities related to the wetland growing of rice.

In a transcript of a radio interview with Robyn Williams on the ABC Radio National (Australia) Web site, Ruddiman talked about his research and the many changes he has discovered in the Earth's climate. Ruddiman "is convinced that people not only caused global warming way back, but when their numbers dropped due to plague or genocide, the effect went down markedly," Williams stated.

Another hypothesis put forth by Ruddiman is that humans have unknowingly managed to postpone the onset of a new ice age. The cumulative effects of the environmental changes people have caused, particularly the increased production of methane and carbon dioxide, have produced worldwide environmental effects that have prevented the planet from slipping into a colder, harsher climate. In the radio interview with Williams, Ruddiman noted that the important question to ask is "how cold would it be if we hadn't intervened starting thousands of years ago and including the industrial revolution. And the answer is it would be quite chilly, we would be something like a third of the way towards typical glacial temperatures by right now." The major changes in the current environment would be felt in the northern areas of Canada and Asia, he noted. "I do still think we've postponed the beginning, the small beginnings but the beginnings, of the next ice age."

In his book, "Ruddiman presents his complex arguments and supporting evidence persuasively and skillfully," offering "valuable new insights into one of the world's most demanding environmental challenges," commented John Bongaarts in the Population and Development Review. He remains mindful of the criticisms and counter-theories that his ideas have generated, and throughout the book "responds to each such critique in kind and, by doing so, provides excellent examples of how challenges in science generate rethinking of problems," observed B.L. Turner II in the Geographical Review.



American Scientist, March-April, 2006, Wolfgang H. Berger, "Global Warming's Early Roots," review of Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate, p. 186.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, February, 2006, R.M. Ferguson, review of Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum, p. 1049.

Futurist, March-April, 2006, review of Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum, p. 51.

Geographical Review, July, 2006, B.L. Turner II, review of Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum, p. 516.

Nature, November 10, 2005, Robert J. Charlson, "A Stone Age Greenhouse," review of Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum, p. 165.

Population and Development Review, June, 2007, John Bongaarts, review of Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum, p. 416.

Science, January 27, 2006, James White, "Early and Profound Human Impact?," review of Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum, p. 472.

Science Books & Films, January-February, 2006, Paul A. Kay, review of Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum, p. 18.

Science News, June 30, 2007, "The Heat Is On," review of Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum, p. 408.

SciTech Book News, September, 2001, review of Earth's Climate, p. 58.

Times Higher Education Supplement, April 14, 2006, Jules Pretty, "Could Your Pint Cost the Earth?," review of Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum, p. 23.

Times Literary Supplement, September 2, 2005, Andrew Harvey, review of Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum, p. 27; January 12, 2007, Richard Hamblyn, "Saved by the Plague," p. 5.


ABC Radio National (Australia) Web site, (August 9, 2007), Robyn Williams, transcript of radio interview with William F. Ruddiman.

Conservation Magazine, (December 5, 2007), Peter Ward, review of Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum.

Economic History Services Web site, (December 5, 2007), Robert Whaples, review of Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum.

University of Idaho Web site, (December 5, 2007), biography of William F. Ruddiman.

University of Virginia Department of Environmental Sciences Web site, (December 5, 2007), autobiography of William F. Ruddiman.

About this article

Ruddiman, William F. 1943- (Bill Ruddiman, W.F. Ruddiman)

Updated About content Print Article Share Article